Learning how to be still, soft, non-reactive and trusting can make all the difference. This is not just easy though, taking intensity and focus to stay in poses out of the equation, means we have to be more consistently focussed on each breath and the unfolding the feelings from our body in each moment.
The attitude we cultivate folding forward into ourselves is one of yielding and surrender, the absolute opposite of craving and wanting. Often when we start practicing the physical form of yoga, forward bends can create that very same spike of desire – we can just want to get further. When we practice the fine art of letting go, we can notice that our body softens and we can deepen in more easily. Yoga helps us to experience strong sensations in life by getting to look at them in the postures, long-term practitioners have shown to put on less weight over ten years because they were good at resisting cravings.
Forward bends also help regulate appetite and want if you practice those where the legs are straight, so lengthening the hamstrings and creating good vagal tone; our ability to self-soothe when things get over stimulating. Bend your knees whenever you need though; straining the lower back is never helpful.
Backbends lengthen the front of the body and contract the back, the opposite motion to much modern postural habits where we hunch over desks and computers. Even simply arching up from the bottom of your ribs up through a long neck, to open your chest, can create an opening in the heart and breath that can make us feel we have the energy and
strength to resist cravings.
Backbends that are done as part of a well-sequenced class, allowing build up and releasing down of the muscle groups involved, can ultimately help strengthen our lower backs and encourage better postural habits whilst moving and sitting in life. This helps our whole bodies respond to stress with more resilience, strengthening our abilities to stand tall and
walk away gracefully from that tempting cake.
Three poses to help when cravings strike:
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose
This pose is a clever back bend that helps position the neck and shoulders to release, areas where we can keenly feel the effects of stress and feel locked in to our responses. It can feel rather intense when we come from a place of tension, so watch you don’t grip the breath and fully release into the sensations. The strength needed to sustain the pose can help redirect attention from cravings, but also show us how we need to keep soft in the breath, eyes and jaw to be able to be with those strong sensations and not introduce more stress. Breathing up on the inhalation and down on the exhalation can produce a wave-like motion through the spine and take up focus we may be giving to cravings.
Viparita Karani – Waterfall Practice aka ‘legs up the wall’
This restorative backbend works best when we raise the hips above the heart, creating a supported backbend with full chest opening and opening at the base of the skull that creates self-soothing through the calming vagus nerve. As you lie and allow the blood to flow back easily to head and heart, this pose can help release the excitatory state that craving produces.
Balasana – Child Pose
Child pose is the ultimate resting forward bend to come back to anytime and catch up with your breath and curl into the safety of a foetal position, where the ‘unsafe’ signals of stress that prompt cravings can be soothed. The brain is calmed from tipping the head forward and naturally energised from gentle pressure on the forehead. This means that balasana can be used as a nourishing rest-stop between poses for anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute or as a restorative pose in its own right at the relaxing end portion of a practice.
This article was first published in Om Magazine. You can see the pdf here: page one and page two.