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Yoga is making me tense up
February 2, 2014 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Can you relate to my extreme resistance to relaxing? What has worked for you?

I am looking into yoga because my lifelong migraine/headache issues have flared once again and seem to be accompanied right now by crazy muscle knots in my back. Besides some pharmaceuticals and trigger point injections, my doctor has also recommended some yoga/meditation to help me relax. I freely admit I live a tense lifestyle, with a long hectic workday plus freelancing and overambitious hobbies on the side, so it does seem like a little downtime is in order.

However.

Even as I sat in the office agreeing that this would be a good idea, I was wailing a little on the inside. I just can't stand the idea of 'wasting' half an hour of my precious free time to do 'nothing'. I know this is irrational. It seems like a good idea to chill for a little while on a more regular basis. But I am perfectly good at sitting around and watching interesting TV or taking a Lush-enhanced bath; this kind of chilling is obviously not enough for those knots in my back. The idea of adding what in my mind is equivalent to exercise makes me want to scream - I already go to the gym a sufficient amount - I have to do some other exercise ?!?!??!!? when I could be lounging in the tub?!?!?!? or watching TV ?!?!?! or reading a good book?!?!?! Hopefully, this paragraph is sufficiently illustrative of my irrational mind.

This irrational part of my mind is quite strong though; I am actually getting upset and thus more tense just thinking about all this. The gnarly headaches are actually less dreadful to that part of my mind than giving in to doing some deep breathing. I am a little flummoxed by how strong these feelings are. I would guess part of it is how upsetting the whole headache thing is, and then being told that I need to stop doing some things I enjoy every day to do something else that I don't like, in order to treat symptoms that other people don't have to deal with.

So what can I do? The first thing I thought of was yoga in the bathtub so I will be exploring some instruction on that. But since yoga/meditation seems to be about becoming more self-aware to relax and since I can't even think about the *idea* of this without getting more tense, I can't imagine actually doing it or getting any benefit from it. So I thought I would also ask here to see if anyone else could relate to this extreme resistance I am having and ask what has worked for you?

(p.s. - I have entertained the idea of going to a formal class, but a) I don't know how I would fit in the extra travel time vs. just finding 15-30 min a day to be mindful at home and b) I imagine myself just being pissed off and annoyed with the whole thing due to all the irrationality above but aiming it at the class, instructor, etc. and just dropping the whole thing and blaming it on the class, putting me right back here.)
posted by Tandem Affinity to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was very tense and stressed for awhile and getting more sleep was the beginning of my cure. Sleeping felt like wasted time to me, but once I 'irrationally' committed to doing it, I quickly felt the benefits and became more open to other relaxing/balancing things.

That said, if I already exercised enough and liked reading books in the tub, I'd forget the yoga and just do more of that because that sounds very relaxing. Meditation you can do throughout the day in little moments so it doesn't really take up much extra time.
posted by michaelh at 9:00 PM on February 2


Hi! I have had a (mostly) nonstop headache for over a year! And I am here to tell you this:

Yoga isn't some magical unicorn activity that has unique stress-relieving properties that you can't find somewhere else. It is one of many forms of moving your body and focusing your mind that helps some people in finding a way to put stressful moments aside. If you already have ways of doing those things, then go to town with what you already know. The point is that as someone with chronic headaches and stress, you need SOMETHING that is a daily occurrence in your life that gives your body a moment to heal a little.

But that said, it sounds like you think of yoga as being mindfulness meditation, and it really isn't that at all. Yoga can be a very intense, sweaty, fucking hard exercise that will have you thinking "oh god can I do this? I don't know if I can do this" more than thinking "ohhhhmmmmm." If you've never actually been to a full-on yoga studio and done an hour-long class, why not give it a try and see if it offers you something new? It's really not at all the same thing as taking a bubble bath or reading a good book -- not to knock those as stress-relieving activities, but i'm just saying, it's apples and oranges.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:04 PM on February 2 [8 favorites]


Yes, I can relate to your oppositional attitude where some of this is concerned. But honestly, I had already made it over the first hump that you're still struggling with by the time I found my way to yoga. I already knew that what I was doing wasn't working for me. You still seem to be grasping at the idea that you can do more of what you're doing now, or do it better or harder or whatever, and that'll somehow fix what's going wrong.

So here's the big secret about yoga. It is full of people just like you. They might drink kombucha and talk about how "present" they are. They might chant and say "namaste" with an earnest grin. But they are, by and large, anxious, tightly-wound, Type-A personalities. Who else needs to take a fucking class and be given step-by-step instructions on how to calm down?! Normal people just do this stuff automatically. Okay. So you're not alone. Great. But that's not going to make it easier, necessarily. Certainly not if you are starting it off deciding it is going to be a failure.

One suggestion I might make is to join a yoga studio that is doing some sort of an ongoing program. You're tightly wound and competitive. Great. Use that to your advantage. Break in by setting yourself up for success by playing to your own strengths. If you're competitive, an ongoing program (my studio is currently doing a 40 Days to a Personal Transformation program - where you commit to attending 5 classes a week there and doing one practice on your own) may be exactly what you need. After 40 days of community, exercise, learning how to short-circuit the negative and anxious feelings that you experience in your practice (and, spoiler alert: in the rest of your life!), you'll likely feel so much better you won't be able to contemplate going back to a schedule that doesn't accommodate yoga practice. At least, that was my experience.

That said, I might not recommend my studio's style (Baptiste style, heated power yoga) it is a great intense work out. But that would probably be a bit like jumping into the deep end of the pool before ever taking a swimming lesson. Could be just too much too fast, especially with migraines. I would recommend an unheated vinyasa flow class. It will be challenging. But it won't necessarily overwhelm you.

As for some of the yoga bullshit... just don't pay attention to it. When someone says that you're "releasing toxins" or tries to open your chakras or whatever, just let it go. It's not important- not nearly as important as the principles of yoga practice that you'll be learning and will be able to apply in your life (ie finding your edge, becoming comfortable with your limitations, celebrating victories without also being your biggest critic, releasing tension in your body).

But I'd say your first step is going to have to be to accept that you are going to have to make some radical changes in the way you are structuring your life if you really want to see relief. Until you accept that, grieve the loss of some of your other hobbies or whatever has to go, and move on, you're just going to stay resentful and resistant.
posted by jph at 9:26 PM on February 2 [16 favorites]


Yoga and meditation are different things. Yoga is a very deliberate set of physical movements, all of which are slow and many of which are really damn strenuous. It's not rolling around on the floor as if you were in a bathtub, and doing yoga in a bathtub would be wildly dangerous.

Maybe you could go on YouTube and pick absolutely any yoga video and watch it for a few minutes. You may be lulled by the light-jazz-soothing-tones of most yoga instructors, but that's because this isn't testosterone-punching-brick-walls exercise, it's elongating and balancing and stretching the shit out of soft tissue you may not actually use (or may abuse) regularly. It shouldn't take long to gain a little more understanding about what yoga is.

(I have never sworn at a television more than during Rodney Yee's Yoga for Abs DVD. I don't know if it's available online, but all his cooing about "soft eyes" quickly turns into swearing and death threats about the third time you have to move your thighs around using only a very specific set of core muscles.)
posted by Lyn Never at 9:36 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


I just can't stand the idea of 'wasting' half an hour of my precious free time to do 'nothing'.

Yoga is fairly strenuous exercise, akin to aerobics, but more focused on stretching and flexibility. It's pretty much the opposite of nothing, and almost all of us could use more daily physical activity. Maybe thinking of it as exercise would make it easier to go? You could always trade gym time for yoga so your overall exercise is the same quantity.
posted by zug at 9:40 PM on February 2 [4 favorites]


Go to one class, it'll cost you 10 bucks. Then go to a second, and a third. What have you got to lose? If you hate it after 10 classes then don't go back and try something else. If you love it then it becomes a hobby and you keep going and turn other things down to attend.

There is no harm in trying.
posted by Youremyworld at 9:40 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


You don't have to do all the spiritual stuff and meditation, you know. You can just use it as a form of exercise and stretching. I do a series called Yoga for Runners to keep my legs loose. There's a ton of stuff targeted at athletes and people not interested in the granola-crunchy stuff.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:49 PM on February 2


Yoga, and meditation, are about finding the quiet in a space, not a space that is quiet. One teacher, style, or studio may not be for you, but there's many more out there. I do recommend skipping the DVDs for a real teacher to start, but once you find someone that works for you, waking up in the morning and exploring a fifteen-minute practice of your own at home will be something you'll look forward to.

There are plenty of schools of yoga, moreover. Bhakti (devotion), Jnana (knowledge), Karma (service), and Raja (classic, eight-limbed, or the ashtanga yoga we normally think of). Maybe one is better for you than another?

It sounds super sandals-and-candles, but a bit of advice is to read a classic text: the Yoga Sutras of Patangali. The first verse simply says, "Now begins yoga" - if you really, truly GET that, you likely understand what yoga can bring to your life.
posted by kcm at 10:00 PM on February 2 [1 favorite]


in addition to what the others are saying, you might want to explore why is it you'd consider such an activity like yoga (which you seem to be conflating with meditation) a 'waste' of your time. from your ask, you strike me as someone who regards time as something to be deeply possessive about. i don't know if you could find any physical therapy that could resolve your health concern if you remain to be very resentful over having to spend time to do it.

also, from what i understand, you do take time to do other relaxing activities - do you include getting therapeutic massages in this? I feel like yoga and pilates fall into those activities. they actively seek to help correct your physical knots, if done right.
posted by cendawanita at 10:24 PM on February 2 [2 favorites]


I used to have this response to yoga too. Yoga classes made me tense and frustrated and sometimes gave me panic attacks.

What I discovered is that it's not yoga, but yoga CLASSES that don't work for me. They do take a lot of time compared to doing yoga by yourself at home. (You have to put on special clothes, travel to the studio, remember to bring everything, make sure you're on time, pay money, drive back, etc.) Being in a class with other people makes me competitive and anxious. Smelling other people, hearing their grunts and noises, seeing them move around in my space while I'm trying to concentrate... these things all make it nearly impossible for me to relax.

So what I do now is use yoga apps on my phone at home and I love yoga and it's a wonderful, transcendent experience. I now understand why so many people love it so much.

I've also really enjoyed yoga in an outdoor setting, in a very small class (just two people), and other unusual places.

I can relate to your feelings on this and I suggest you try yoga by yourself or in a small group, or in different setting (private lesson on the beach?) to see what works for you.

As for meditation? That has NEVER worked for me. I get PTSD flashbacks. So I just avoid that and listen to short calming self-hypnosis apps on my phone.

You can find the right way to make this work for you.
posted by 3491again at 11:22 PM on February 2


Your resistance and arising tension are extremely understandable.

I also felt a lot of resistance and tension for the first couple of years of yoga (and looking back on how much it stressed me out it's amazing how I persevered, but I did have a belief that was not how it was "supposed" to be so I kept trying). Not to say too much that no one would be interested in, but I do think it stems from many things, including not wanting to feel oneself, continually escaping oneself and self medicating by "being productive and useful", and the sheer unfamiliar strangeness of the feeling of simply doing nothing (or quieting, or paying attention).

For a long time I could feel the tension build even as I rolled out my mat ( I had to put all my distractions aside and be with myself for a while?? Oh no!!!), and there were times, and there still are, where I am more tense than "relaxed" for the entirety of my workout.

But it does get better. My recommendation for you, and this was my approach, is to start with more "active" forms of yoga over the quieter or calmer classes. Active, vigorous, strenuous classes give you more a sense that you're "doing" something, and are easier to handle. But they also should provide some quiet moments, for example savasana, which will ease you into being more okay with this, gradually.

I'm still far from "relaxed" all the time when I do yoga but I'm much better than I used to be. Because of the time I've spent doing yoga I am even able to spend some time doing things like meditation and breathwork. I do think it was because I went with yoga first that I can do so. Before if I tried to sit quietly I just felt like running and screaming. I know it's absurd.
posted by Blitz at 11:29 PM on February 2 [3 favorites]


I can see being annoyed at this, sure. I sometimes resent having to do my PT exercises; they're nowhere near as intrinsically enjoyable as other things I'd prefer to do (but can't, because of increasingly frequent injuries... which reinforce the need to do the PT. It's zero % fun to work with your body like this when you have to.

Re yoga: I haven't at all liked very slow versions when I've tried classes, and have absolutely resisted certain kinds of stillness (even when I've sought them out). But there are different kinds of yoga, some more active than others. And there are other activities involving gentle but ongoing movement that still addresses those muscle groups and breathing.

Perhaps tai chi? I like swimming -- can't get away from rhythmic breathing, like it or not, and it works just as well -- but that might not be good for your body right now. Maybe you could go to a pool and just float on your back and kick and breathe any way you like. (Maybe pool over bathtub, unless you've got a huge tub that at least lets you stretch out your full back and float your head in a neutral position.)

2nd massages, massages are wonderful.

I don't blame you either for resenting the time taken from you and the additional responsibility. If you've got a lot on your plate, consider cutting back on obligations wherever you can, because this is catching up with you and it's not ignorable, is it?
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:33 PM on February 2


Also, I feel MUCH less tense in a class because I now I am there for the duration and I don't really have to discipline myself while I'm there (social etiquette dictates I just follow the class). I feel much more tense and anxious at home, anxious about the time while I'm doing yoga, and constantly wondering whether I should just do one more pose or stop now, etc. So you may find it varies depending on home vs studio too.
posted by Blitz at 11:34 PM on February 2


(Following Lyn Never: one YouTube yoga instructor I can actually follow, though, is Esther Ekhart. Infectiously calming delivery; has lots of pain-specific sequences and good beginner vids, and most on her YouTube channel are short and, I think, well-paced for people with lots of monkey in their minds.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:54 PM on February 2 [9 favorites]


Yoga stresses me out. I took a few classes to relieve stress during a bad year & the whole situation (and fear I was doing it wrong, and a health issue) brought on so many waves of nausea that I'd spend half the class on the ladies room floor, sobbing over the toilet. Really. It just wasn't for me.

(Years before, a tai chi instructor years ago told me I wasn't in the right mindspace for class & suggested I drop.)

What has been helpful for me to get into a state of mindfulness is walking, and when at home, some wonderful, non-guided stretching. And just sitting quietly, petting the dog or being very still and listening to the bubbles pop in my bottle of seltzer or watching the dust particles fly in a sunny window. I could do that for hours, and do.
posted by mochapickle at 3:19 AM on February 3


So I thought I would also ask here to see if anyone else could relate to this extreme resistance I am having and ask what has worked for you?

I used to be pretty resistant to yoga and meditation (although certainly not at the visceral level you describe). I tried yoga on several different occasions, and disliked it each time. But eventually, I found a studio I liked, with instructors and an ambiance that suited me, and I went into a "de-stress" class with an open mind. I came out feeling so relaxed and calm, and since then have incorpated that class (2x per week) into my routine. It has made a world of difference.

So, my suggestion is to try a few different studios (I think for a beginner going to a proper class a few times is worth it, before starting an at-home practice) and have an open mind. Be prepared to be disappointed at first. Try to limit your expectations. And, always remember that yoga might just not be for you, and that's okay.

I imagine myself just being pissed off and annoyed with the whole thing due to all the irrationality above but aiming it at the class, instructor, etc. and just dropping the whole thing and blaming it on the class, putting me right back here...

FWIW, yoga and meditation have really helped me overcome this type of bad attitude / negativity. I feel much more at ease with myself and my environment when I'm practicing regularly.

posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:08 AM on February 3


I think your doctor was just using yoga as shorthand for meditation and intentional stress relieving activity. Don't worry about "yoga" specifically.

So, when you're in the tub, are you alone with your thoughts? Or are you reading a book, wondering what's on TV, thinking about work, planning your day, etc?

I'm suspecting that your "relaxing" activities are actually way more stimulating than you think. You need to find something that will let your brain slow down. Maybe this means a glass of wine or mug of tea in the evenings with a commitment to just enjoying it. Maybe it means doing less outside of work or working less. Examine why you are really scared of being alone with your thoughts. I find that my "irrational" feelings usually come from a place a bit deeper and darker than I want to admit. Are you afraid of being alone?

But, I'm also going to be realistic in that you've taken how many ever years you are old to develop these habits and personality traits— you won't change them with 30 min a day.
posted by fontophilic at 4:15 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


Generally when we avoid relaxing, we're avoiding thinking about something that would come into our minds if we relaxed. The cure is to figure out what it is and think about it.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:30 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


I already go to the gym a sufficient amount - I have to do some other exercise

Could you take the yoga time from your current gym time, instead of from your current tub (or whatever) time?
posted by redfoxtail at 6:33 AM on February 3


You are so anxious you are literally forgetting to breathe! Yoga is recommended because it puts such a strong focus on the breath while still being vigorous exercise. If you find the right studio, it can also be a lot of fun! (So take the time to find the right class- a lot of places offer free first weeks or first practices, so you can try a bunch of places without paying more than $1 or $2 to rent a mat. Just bring a towel to put over the mat if a rented mat icks you out.)

I would also recommend:
(1) Read full catastrophe living by Dr. Kabat-Zinn
(2) Use mineral salts when you take a bath (it actually works to relieve muscle tension, and doesn't contain the strong scents that can sometimes be migraine triggers)
(3) Many "relaxing" foods or drinks are migraine triggers- think alcohol and chocolate. If you think back, can you figure out potential triggers and avoid them?
(4) A good trick to massage that space between/under the shoulder blades: stand with your back against the wall, place a golf ball between the wall and the upper part of your back. Stand up and then squat down a little bit while keeping your back against the wall, causing the ball to roll right along those little muscles. Aaaaaahhh!
(5) Work in pomodoro cycles: 30 or 40 minutes on, 5 minutes off to walk around or stetch.
(6) Maybe eventually look into doing something about that baseline level of anxiety, like CBT. (It's an AskMe, someone eventually had to recommend therapy.)

Good luck.
Ps, your AskMe could have described me four years ago. One thing at a time (not all at once) I started yoga and therapy, changed my diet and did all of the things on my list. I literally cannot put to words how valuable it has been. I am now almost entirely pain free (without meds) and have gotten through some really tough times (also without meds) by leaning hard into the practices I had learned.
posted by susiswimmer at 6:40 AM on February 3 [2 favorites]


Others have covered the yoga angle really well. I just wanted to add something about the "meditation" portion. I took an 8 week mindfulness meditation class, mainly because my spouse took it and said I should do it and even though I thought it sounded kind of dumb, sometimes you do these things your partner wants because it doesn't seem worth arguing over...

Anyway, I was really surprised by it. I am not a "type A" person by nature, so I felt like I had plenty of "relaxing" in my schedule already (book reading, tv watching, metafiltering...). But, the class illustrated for me that all of those things were ways of keeping myself perpetually distracted. There is a lot of research that mindfulness can help reduce stress, in a different way than other kinds of "relaxation". My class had a wide range of people in it, taking it for all sorts of reasons (to handle pain issues, anxiety, emotional regulation, etc.).

The class didn't change me into a regular meditator, but it gave me some tools that I use regularly.

So, if the idea of yoga doesn't appeal, I suggest you could try looking for a class in "mindfulness based stress reduction". If you google that phrase plus your city, I'm guessing you'll find some options. Mine was university-run, and very low on the "woo" quotient.
posted by msbubbaclees at 7:17 AM on February 3 [4 favorites]


I echo all the people above saying that yoga is physically demanding, and definitely not 'doing nothing'.

At the same time, though, I get where you're coming from on the resistance to relaxation stuff. Any time I have tried to do any deliberate relaxation exercises (of the "clooooooose your eyes, imagine a caaaaaaalm place in your mind, now feel yourself graaaaadually relaxing all your fingers... and your hands... and now your wrists" variety) I have hated it and ended up much less relaxed than before. It doesn't work for me, at all. And I've tried, I really have, most recently as part of an antenatal course where the teachers were so so emphatic about how important it is to have strategies to relax in early labour, but... no. Visualising feathers and golden threads and breathing deeply just made me annoyed. (And consequently even more stressed, because if I can't relax now then I'll never be able to do it in labour... etc. etc.)

But the teacher for the last antenatal class made a point of saying, "for some of you, this won't work and it won't help you relax at all. And that's fine. What matters is that you know what helps you relax so you can do that, whatever it looks like." Which was very reassuring, because it's not relaxing I'm bad at - it's just relaxing in that particular way.

So, I'd say definitely try meditation and/or some of the more energetic forms of yoga, and be aware that they might not be what you envisioned and might be quite useful to you. But at the same time, if they're not useful to you, don't go forcing yourself into doing them because I Must Relax Dammit! and yoga is the objectively best way to do that. What matters is that you find ways to relax that work for you, and there are lots of different paths that might get you there.
posted by Catseye at 8:40 AM on February 3


Another perspective here from a similarly very busy person. I started taking yoga classes not for stress relief but for flexibility. What I found was that the classes have surely increased my flexibility, core strength and arm strength but the very surprising (to me) side benefit has been stress reduction/relaxation. I think if I had gone into the class thinking about meditation and relaxation, I would have felt the same way you do. According to one of my instructors, yoga is one pathway to the same place that meditation is intended to take you. My class has a short (5/10 minute) meditation at the end of the class and that's about all I can handle. By that time, however, I'm so relaxed from the yoga that everything seems fine.
posted by bluesky43 at 9:02 AM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Okay, wow. I think that you should commit to trying yoga 4-5 times a week for the next 4 weeks. Just make that small commitment and see how it goes. If you still hate the idea after that, it was only 4 weeks of your life. Very very small percentage in the grand scheme of things.

I am a huge believer in the healing benefits of yoga. I had chronic migraines for over a year (I was almost disabled) and tried a huge array of drugs to no avail. The only thing that solved my problem was yoga, and I had the added benefit of relieving all tension in my body. Seriously, imagine having NO tension in your body at all. That is kind of amazing, right? Especially for someone like me, whose neck and back was CONSTANTLY in knots.

I say 4-5 times a week because I truly think you need to go that much in order to see the huge benefits. Especially if you are only committing to 4 weeks of trying it. I truly think your mind will change after you start doing yoga regularly, and if you get yourself enrolled in a good power yoga class, you will find that a lot of your other gym activities can be stopped or reduced. I am incredibly strong and toned just from a power yoga practice. Like way stronger than you would possibly believe. Find a good local studio with high ratings, buy a month pass, and try it out.
posted by corn_bread at 9:55 AM on February 3


I came back to say that there is a physiological difference between active and passive relaxation activities. Passive relaxation are things like watching tv and lounging in the bath. Active relaxation are things like yoga and meditation. Active relaxation techniques actually alter gene expression patterns.
posted by corn_bread at 10:01 AM on February 3


I get migraines and when I have one, that time is "wasted" whether I am still able to go about my day or not, because I'm not operating at full capacity. I also do yoga and I still get migraines. But I think you should try it, because if it can reduce the frequency of the migraines, it's a net gain of free time. I recommend Bryan Kest because it's strenuous, so it will feel more like exercise and less like wasting time, but he also does a good job at explaining the poses so beginners can understand. He also gives a lot of reminders about the mental or aspects of yoga, like focusing on the breath and acceptance of whatever is going on, whether it's painful, whether you are not flexible enough to do the poses, etc. Plus it's only $10 and you can do it at home. Good luck.
posted by katieanne at 10:11 AM on February 3


So surprised that no one has mentioned "Theraputic Yoga". I've only recently discovered it, for much the same reasons as you. I have anxiety issues and find it difficult to relax during a formal or home based yoga session.
For me, it was too much like working out and that just excites me, gets my blood pressure and heart rate going and that's the exact opposite of what I want my body to be doing.
I tried wandering around YouTube to find a session, but really didn't find anything that fit my own personal bill.
Then I went to amazon, and found YogaNap, and I've been doing a lot of the poses in the book and they relax and heck out of me, no matter how long or how short my session is. Recently I've taken to doing a pose or two once an hour, just to counteract sitting in a chair all day long.
I hope this helps!
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 12:03 PM on February 3


Besides yoga, another thing that might help you that you could use while watching TV on the knots in your back is the Back Buddy. Jabbing it into the knots in my back and shoulders hasn't been pleasant for me but it has been beneficial.

(On the yoga side, I find it also very beneficial like a lot of the other people here, but struggle devoting the time/effort even though I know it's good for me, so I guess I'm a bit in your boat.)
posted by foxfirefey at 1:03 PM on February 3


What?

I must be doing a very different sort of yoga.
It's sweaty pushups and stretching, and when you go into the right pose, my back makes those massage crunchy noises by itself, and tensed up muscles get moved into positions where they have no option but to untense as they get stretched out, and my forehead is dripping sweat on the mat during yet another Downward facing dog, until finally at the end of the class they let me lie down on a mat for a few minutes (we even get little blankets), and everything feels better.

Go to yoga *instead* of a weekly gym session.

It's not the same sort of relaxation has deep breathing or something either. It's forcing your body into poses that correct the alignment of your spine (crunch!), and force tense muscles to loosen up so you can straighten them further (creeak!), and breathing is so you can move into a pose deeper, and strengthening the muscles that give you better posture throughout the day (burn!).

As much as I vastly prefer getting a massage, going to a yoga class actually fixes all the niggles in my back and neck much better than a massage.
Only exception being, go get a Thai Massage if you really can't stand yoga, because that's where they basically move you round like a doll, into similar poses to yoga, and force your body into being straightened out.


Also, if you're tensing up at the thought of this, do the 'relaxation' exercises where you tense up the muscle more, as hard as you can, for at least 5-10 seconds, because when you finally release them, they'll release properly, rather than into that half-tense state. You have to go body part by body part, from toes to head, but it is kinda effective.


P.S. Finally - Back pain tip:
Massage your pectorals. Seriously, rub and grope at that ropey line from your armpits along under your collarbone. If it hurts a bit, go semi-gently, but keep up a firm pressure, and really try and tenderise that ropey muscle until is softens up, and check it out as that pain vanishes within a few minutes as that muscle loosens up.
Hold your arms out like they are on an invisible keyboard - If you spend any time at a computer, or holding books in awkward poses, those muscles are tense from holding your arms up all day.
Because they are tensed up, they are pulling your shoulders forward in a hunch, and that causes your upper back to curve too far forward, and your lowerback to over-curve in the other direction to compensate. This means you might be feeling the pain quite low on your back, but it's all from not being able to straighten out properly because your pectorals are tense.
I don't know any office workers/computer geeks who don't have muscle tension there.
Massage there, and suddenly you can drop your shoulders further, and actually 'relax' your back into a straight posture.
Check it out. It's magic.
posted by Elysum at 2:00 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


Lots of good answers in this thread but I wanted to just echo corn_bread and attack the idea that relaxing activities are inherently lazy or consist of doing nothing.

Coming from a tai chi/qigong angle there is a big difference between a relaxed lazy slouch and doing the movements correctly, maintaining the correct posture whilst also relaxing.

The former is very easy and requires no thought. The later is very difficult, requiring all your will to be sharply focused. People doing tai chi/yoga etc may look serene but the reality is that their mind is constantly working hard to improve their movement.

I think the other thing these kind of activities make you aware of is how little you are aware of your own mind and body. If you are just laying down, can you feel the middle of your back? What does it feel like? How long does it take to find the sensation? Again this is something you have to train yourself to do.

Lastly I entirely understand the concerns about hearing about energy based nonsense in a class. My tactic with this has been to ignore it and remind myself that mindfulness is a well varied predicator of happiness and stress is a big factor in many health problems such as heart disease. So the activity is useful even if not for the reasons the teacher believes.
posted by Erberus at 2:15 PM on February 3


The thing I really like about yoga is that it's so fucking hard I CANNOT think about anything else apart from holding the pose and keeping up with the flow. Then that means that for an hour and 15 minutes, or an hour and a half, I couldn't spare the brain space to worry about work or whatever it was I had to do immediately after class. In shivasana after class, I just like to lie there on the floor and think about how relieved I am that class is over.

I started going for the physical benefits (not a fan of traditional gym options) and was surprised after a while to find that the mental benefits became more important to me. I definitely ignore a lot of the woo stuff (I am not sure you get as much woo anyway in the very demanding classes.) I like a combination of Ashtanga classes to really kick my ass in an aerobic way and Iyengar classes to improve my form (slower, but with so much emphasis on getting form correct and safety and holding poses to improve strength and flexibility - after a minute or so into a pose, I am no longer thinking about work.)

I have about a 50/50 success rate of yoga classes helping my migraines, and I am a very anxious, high-achieving person who works 60 hour weeks on the regular. (Case in point: I am 8.5 months pregnant and this post is my break while I eat dinner at my desk at 7:30 pm. I've been in the office since 8:30 and I probably won't leave until at least 9 pm.) I also have a herniated disc in my neck which flares up periodically, scoliosis which has left my spine and everything else out of kilter, and yoga seems to help manage the disc and back issues.

One other thing I really love about yoga classes is all the positive reinforcement you get from the teachers for just trying. Really nice to go to a class where someone says "great job" and comments on your improvement over time when in the rest of my life, I'm slaving away for an abusive boss and wondering how the hell I ended up spending the majority of my time working so hard for someone who's such an awful person, and why I still care about trying to do a good job.


Also, this made me laugh:

So here's the big secret about yoga. It is full of people just like you. They might drink kombucha and talk about how "present" they are. They might chant and say "namaste" with an earnest grin. But they are, by and large, anxious, tightly-wound, Type-A personalities. Who else needs to take a fucking class and be given step-by-step instructions on how to calm down?! Normal people just do this stuff automatically.
posted by data hound at 4:28 PM on February 3 [1 favorite]


> Even as I sat in the office agreeing that this would be a good idea, I was wailing a little on the inside

My doctor recommended yoga and I wailed on the outside, telling her I hate yoga. It turns out my doctor also hates yoga, and recommends it to her patients just because it's helped some of them.

Maybe yoga isn't for you -- it certainly isn't for me -- and that's okay. Just find some other way to relax, since it sounds like relaxation is the goal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:04 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


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