For those of us with a trauma history, the eyes can be a provocative place. Making eye contact can feel triggering, emotional, and intense. We may feel a great deal of tension in and around the eyes as well. For those of us with the ability to see, our eyes are one of the earliest parts of ourselves to develop and one of our earliest places where we begin to guard and protect. We avert our eyes. We look away. We brace and hold tension. And this tension that we hold can come with a flood of emotion. It is through our eyes that we cry after all.
The answer to releasing the eyes, may not lie in going to the eyes directly but in releasing the connected muscles and tissues that support the eyes. These are the scalenes, sternocleidomastoid, upper trapezius, pectoralis minor, subclavian fascia, and quadriceps.
If some of the things I mentioned above sound like you; difficulty making eye contact, tension, or discomfort in and around the eyes, I invite you to try this simple Embodiment Yoga Therapy practice for releasing possible trauma held within the eyes in a gentle manner that works with the harmony of your body.
Embodiment Yoga Therapy Practice for Releasing Trauma held in the Eyes
Begin by practicing the Embodiment Yoga Therapy Opening Sequence, found in this previous blog post. Or, if you are in a place of hypervigilance, you may wish to lean into sensation and can explore this practice for meeting tension with sensation..
Once you have connected with your body and your breath, I invite you to begin by lying on the floor with your knees bent. Following the rhythm of your breath, allow your legs to sway back and forth like windshield wipers. Pay attention to the sensation felt through your inner and outer thighs and perhaps along the front of your hips into the quadriceps.
Why am I suggesting releasing the quadriceps if the intention is to release trauma held in the eyes? The quadriceps are facially connected to the sternocleidomastoid (SCM). Releasing the quadriceps can support the beginning of the unwinding needed to release the SCM, which in turn can support improved blood flow and a reduction of tension in the orbital muscles around the eyes. If releasing your legs feels like something that you need to work on, I suggest exploring this practice.
Allow the legs to settle with the knees rolled in toward each other and the feet wide. Invite an easeful breath into the belly and allow the hands to rest on the abdomen. Invite the idea of softness into the body and the breath.
Find your clavicle (your breastbone nearest to the center of your chest) with your fingertips and allow the fingers to sink into the space between your upper ribs and the clavicle. Use your inhale to bring your chest to push into your fingers. Inviting a gentle release and allowing the chest to open. If you feel tension, I suggest allowing the tension to unravel prior to moving to a new spot along the clavicle.
Continue to move your fingers toward your shoulders and allow your fingers to sink into the space just below the end of your clavicle at the coracoid process just below your shoulder. As you sink into this place, allow your arm to move away from the body, slowly sweeping along the floor and exploring space. Allow the palm to face toward the ceiling to protect your shoulder. From here, with a bent elbow, reach your arm up and overhead and then slide it back down along the ribs.
Repeat both actions on the opposite side of the chest with the opposite arm.
Moving the fingers along the anterior of your neck, place your fingers just below your jawline and beside the trachea (do not press on the trachea). Let the finger pads sink softly into the skin and slowly begin to glide your fingers down the front of the neck moving toward the clavicle. As you do this, gently roll your neck up and down and from side to side. Continue to repeat this action, slowly moving further away from the trachea each time, until you have released the tissue under the ear.
At this point, place a block beneath your head and roll your chin toward your shoulder. Allow your fingers to find the sternocleidomastoid. This muscle will pop in this orientation and runs on the diagonal from your ear to the center of your clavicle. With your thumb and fingers, gently pinch this muscle and hold the tissue while you slowly roll your neck from side to side and from ear to ear. Work your fingers toward the clavicle as you invite these movements.
Repeat these actions on the opposite side of the neck.
Come back to a neutral and comfortable position, lying on your back. Return to observing your breath and noticing what has changed and what has stayed the same.
Give space for your feelings to arise. Allow yourself to notice, to feel, and to breathe.
In every moment, you always have a choice. You can pump the breaks by extending your legs away from your body and squeezing your muscles and can move into a polyvagal stretch by coming onto your belly and propping yourself up onto your elbows.
If at this moment, you feel something and would like for it to move, you can allow your breath to shift into an intentional breath pattern by inhaling through the nose and exhaling, without control and the jaw slack through the mouth. Allow your breath to be fluid and without pause like a circle and stay with this breath, being present to your feelings as you allow them to move.
Ask your body if there is anything that it would like to do, express, or say, and if it is available for you, give your body permission to do what it is asking. This might mean stamping your feet, screaming, jumping. Play with allowing yourself to release what you have been holding. Staying present to what you are noticing and staying present to your breath.
When you would like to transition out of the practice, give yourself time to find a comfortable pose such as a restorative yoga pose with warm blankets. Give yourself permission to stay here for a while to allow your body to integrate the work that you have done.
As you gain more comfortable with this practice, you may notice your body asking to move to new areas of the body. This asking can come in the form of tension. Keep checking back as I will be adding more posts about releasing other areas of the body.