This article was originally published on YogaJournal.com on November 18, 2020.
Screen time overload?
Are long hours in front of a computer making you feel weary, anxious, or grumpy? Screen time dominates our days and evenings, wreaking havoc on our eyes and our nervous system.
Instead of reaching for your phone to scroll through social media when your work day ends, grab your yoga props. This Restorative Yoga sequence by DC-area based teacher Tara Lemerise is practiced with a headwrap to alleviate eye strain and leave you feeling grounded and refreshed.
Many of us feel tired eyes and uncomfortable headaches after focusing on a screen all day. Asthenopia, the medical term for eye strain, is also exacerbated by stress, fatigue, and lack of sleep.
With many of us in our homes for work, school, and recreation like never before, our stress levels, fatigue, poor sleep hygiene, and time using screens has only been increasing. An August 2020 report from Nielsen estimated that the average American’s time on a screen has increased 60% since the emergence of COVID-19 in the United States to nearly 13 hours per day.
Using Yoga for Eye Health
Restorative Yoga and pratyāhāra are the perfect practices to give our overtaxed eyes and frayed nervous system a reset.
Wearing a headwrap, or eye bandage as it is also called, is a simple way to cultivate the right conditions for pratyāhāra.
Often translated as withdrawal of the senses, the Sanskrit word prati means towards and āhāra means to bring near or to fetch.
During the practice of pratyāhāra, we are aiming to separate ourselves from the input we receive from our senses. Wearing a headwrap temporarily disables our sense of sight (and hearing depending on how you position the bandage).
In essence, we fetch our awareness away from external inputs and direct it inward. This not only gives our eyes a break but also reduces the stimulation of the brain and begins the shift from the fight or flight high alert state to the rest and digest side of our nervous system.
The headwrap, along with the piles of props used in this sequence, creates a safe and supported place for resting.
Restorative Yoga poses are not aiming to build strength, cultivate flexibility, or grace in movement, like so many of our asana practices do.
Think about how a swaddle calms a fussy baby. You will know that you have captured the spirit of Restorative Yoga when you feel open, settled, and calm without any stretch or effort in the body.
Also remember that it takes time to change habits. When we are established in patterns of stress and overusing our eyes, it is better to practice fewer postures with longer holds. Stay in the poses for as long as 20 minutes but for no less than 8 minutes. Set a timer with a pleasing alarm sound to signal the time to transition to a different pose. If this means you can’t get through the whole sequence, don’t worry! Less is more.
Please note, if your eye strain or headache doesn’t improve after this practice, seek medical help. This could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
Restorative Yoga for Your Eyes
Wrap Your Head
The headwrap or eye bandaged pictured is a Pune Headwrap but you could also use a medical bandage.
Choose one that has as little stretch as possible. You don’t want the bandage to apply any excessive compression on your head or eyes. No matter what type of headwrap you choose, wrap your head lightly.
Start with the loose end of the bandage behind one ear. Unroll the bandage as you wrap it around your head and eyes. You can even position the bandage so that it will cover your ears if you’d like.
When you get to the end of the bandage, tuck the end in behind your ear where you started or on the other side, based on the length of the fabric. Avoid tucking it in at the back of your head or on your temple.
You can slide the bandage up over your eyes to set up your props for your poses and then slide it back into place while you are resting in each pose.
Lie on your back with a folded blanket under your head. Bend your knees and place your feet flat onto the floor. Drape a blanket over your knees and place your head on your belly.
Relax your body into the support of the floor. Swallow and release the weight of your head into your soft blanket. Feel your eyes settling into the back of your eye sockets. Notice your breath. There’s no need to push or force your breath to do anything in particular but allow it to travel low and deep beneath your hands.
When you are done practicing the pose, pull your knees into your chest. Roll over to one side. Use the support of your hands and arms to push your body up into a seated position.
Macrasana (Crocodile Pose)
Come to lie down on your belly. Extend your right leg behind you and rest your ankle on a rolled up blanket. Slide your left leg out to the side, bending at your hip and your knee until your shin is parallel to the long edge of a yoga mat. Pad your knee and ankle with a blanket. Turn your head so your right cheek is resting on a folded blanket. Place your arms in a goal post shape or rest your arms down by your sides.
Allow your breath to deepen and feel the movement of breath across your low belly and into your back. Rest into the support of the floor and use each exhale to relax more completely.
After at least 5 minutes, switch sides and practice the pose for the same amount of time on the second side.
To come out of the pose, extend both legs along the floor behind you. Reposition your hands so you can use the support of hands and strength in arms to push your body to all fours and then settle your hips to your heels to hips in balasana (child’s pose.) After a few breaths, push your body up to a seated position.
Supta Badakonasana (Reclining Bound Angle Pose)
Set up one block on the middle side and one block on the low side with the short ends of each block parallel to the long sides of the yoga mat and little space between the blocks. Position your bolster on the blocks on an angle like a sliding board. Place a folded blanket at the high end of bolster and put one block on the floor to either side of the bolster.
Sit with your back to the bolster, as close to the end of the bolster as you can get without actually sitting on it. Bend your knees so your feet are flat on the floor. Place one rolled up blanket next to each leg. Pull each roll in towards your leg until it touches your ankle and your outer hip. When the blankets are in place on each side, join the soles of your feet and open your legs to a diamond shape into the support of the rolls.
Once your legs are supported, recline back onto the bolster. The center of the back of your head should be positioned directly over the highest block. Rest your elbows on the blocks and place your hands on your belly or on your inner thighs.
Relax into the support of the props. Send your breath through the front of your body, across your chest and into your lower belly. Sometimes it will even feel as if you can extend your breath into inner thighs.
To come out of the pose, bring the soles of your feet flat on the floor and slide your legs out to straight. Pause for a moment or two to appreciate any difference you feel in your legs and the front of your body. Bend your knees, cross your left arm over your chest, and roll down off of the props to your right side. Pull your knees in and tuck your chin in. Curl in around your heart and take a few breaths before you push up into a seated position.
Bhradvajasana (Side Saddle Twist)
Place your bolster on the floor and sit with your right hip next to the short end of the bolster. Put a folded blanket at the end of the bolster farthest from where you are sitting. Position the bolster the side seam of your shirt is lined up parallel to the centerline of the bolster. Arrange your legs so they are slightly staggered, not stacked. Lengthen your spine and twist your torso towards the bolster, framing it with your hands on either side. Lower down onto the bolster and position your head so your right cheek rests on the blanket. Make sure both of your arms are resting comfortable on the floor from hands to elbows. If not, add a blanket to bring the floor to your arm.
Relax into the support of the bolster, breathing deeply into your belly and left side. After at least 5 minutes, push up away from the bolster and switch sides. Practice the pose for the same amount of time on the second side.
Simple Heart Opener
Fold one blanket in half lengthwise. Place a second blanket at one end. Sit with your back to the first blanket at the short end. Bend your knees and position a bolster with a rolled up blanket on top under your knees. Lie back on the two folded blankets so the first blanket supports your sacrum and the second blanket supports your head. If your heels are no longer resting on the floor, add a blanket under your heels to bring the floor to you. Allow your arms to rest comfortably by your sides, with a generous amount of space between your arms and your body.
Relax the weight of your head into the blankets. Allow your legs to relax and drift out to the sides. Use your exhalations to help you release all effort in your arms and legs. Continue to follow the movement of your breath across your chest and at your belly.
To come out of the pose, draw your knees into your chest and roll to your side. Tuck your chin in and curl in around your heart. Take a few breaths before you push up into a seated position.
Savasana (Corpse Pose) with Legs Elevated
Set up two blocks on the middle side, parallel to one another. Place a bolster on top. Lie on your back with your legs elevated so that your calves are resting on the bolster, parallel to the floor. Place a folded blanket under your head. Pull your shoulder blades away from your spine so your upper back is broad against the floor. Allow your arms to rest comfortably by your sides.
Let go of all effort in body and mind. Allow your mind to move into an expansive place. If you find yourself in problem-solving mode, making to-do lists, or feeling anxious or worried, go back to focusing on the breath.
To come out of the pose, draw your knees into your chest. Hold your knees with your hands and rock gently side to side several times before rolling all the way over to one side. Tuck your chin in and curl in around your heart. Take a few breaths before you push up into a seated position.
Sukasana Meditation Seat
Set up your meditation seat with a block between your upper back and the wall. This will allow you to sit well without slumping. Use a rolled up blanket to support your arms so that your elbows can rest comfortably under your shoulders. Extend upward through the crown of your head. Move your head back as if you are pushing your ears toward the wall. Even though you are wearing the headwrap, keep your eyes closed and your gaze turned downward under closed eyes.
Survey your body and watch your inhale and exhale until your breath is calm and even. Choose an image that makes you feel calm such as a yantra, the symbol of om, a beautiful flower or tree, the ocean, a snowy mountain, or a vast desert, the face of a loved one or a pet, any calming and pleasant image for you. The image itself matters less than the feeling you associate with it.
See the image as if it is entering your vision from the back of your head. Hold your attention to the image at the back of your head and maintain your steady breathing. If the image moves around or begins to morph or change, refocus and stabilize the image at the back of the center of your head.
When your meditation timer goes off, allow the image to dissolve into a mist. Take a deep breath. Slowly remove your eye wrap and keeping your gaze soft, gently blink open your eyes and refocus on the world around you.
Looking for more help with your Restorative Yoga practice? Join me for Restorative Yoga classes on Thursdays at 7 pm ET. You will also find monthly online Restorative Yoga and Yoga Nidra on Sunday afternoons. If you are in the DC metro area, join me for in-person classes, workshops, and training.