Relaxation is an art
There are various practices which one can develop and utilize to bring about relaxation of the mind and body, thus transforming life into an expression of well-being. Relaxation is also a science. It is based on solid scientific fact.
Many people think that relaxation is very easy to practice. One just needs to close his eyes and sleep. But in fact, relaxation, we mean deep relaxation, is very difficult. While resting, the mind is in a state of turmoil and the body is continually tossing and turning, and the muscles twitching. The biggest obstacle to overcome is for people to actually take active steps to bring about relaxation, to develop and use the various techniques that are available.
Because most people cannot relax, in the real sense of the word, they will find that their whole lives will change by just being able to relax. It is such a simple thing, and it can bring wonderful results. Relaxation is essential in everyone’s life. By relaxation we mean a release of tension in both the mind and body for a period of time to allow complete rest and revitalization.
If you do what you love, it is the best way to relax
~ Christian Louboutin ~
The main reason why people sleep is to relax. However, because of the tension-filled lives that they lead in the daytime, sleep no longer performs its functions properly. They find that they don’t relax even during sleep. Instead, they continue to worry and try to solve their problems. This does not lead to the rest that the body and mind require. People wake up in the morning still exhausted and this state remains throughout the day. It is a vicious circle, for they again go to sleep that same night with the accumulated tensions of the day as well as the exhaustion that has accumulated from numerous nights of insufficient rest during sleep. It is no wonder that when the weekend holidays arrive many people spend much of their time sleeping.
This is why modern man needs to know about some systematic techniques which specifically induce relaxation. Sleep is still necessary, but it needs to be supplemented with techniques that quickly and efficiently remove worry and stress. It seems to be a contradiction, but it is nevertheless true that those persons who can easily relax can do more work, can enjoy life more, they need less sleep and tend to have smoother social relationships in all spheres of life.
A person who can truly relax is able to recuperate mental and physical power and focus it in one direction when required. This is in fact willpower, the ability to direct one’s whole being toward the attainment of one objective without distraction. Relaxation leads to strong willpower. Tension leads to dissipation of energy and attention in all directions.
The role of yoga
Yoga is a great way to relieve stress and relax. During yoga classes wonderful changes can be seen in people. Many people walk into class with tension written on every line of their face and on every word they speak. Aggression pervades them. Tension, worry and unhappiness fill their bodies. When they start their practices, slowly but surely, the stress and emotional turmoil begins to evaporate.
At the end of their lessons, the students finally realize that they are in a state of relaxation. They genuinely start to smile, to feel light, carefree and have confidence in themselves. This is not an exception but the rule. These people by the systematic process of relaxation techniques have changed their whole attitude towards themselves, to other people and life in general. This transformation may only last for an hour or so, but it leaves a wonderful impression on the mind, and helps to permanently encourage a more relaxed attitude towards life.
Our main goal is to begin to enjoy mental and physical relaxation as a normal part of our life, whether during intense activity, sleep or whatever, and not as something that you experience only occasionally, perhaps during yoga practices. Our life must be an expression of relaxation and joy. So we must find a way to cultivate the ability to relax under all conditions and at all times.
Yoga practice provides such a way. It brings about relaxation and a thorough revitalization of the body and the mind, whether it is by means of asanas (postures), pranayama (science of breathing) or any other meditational practices.
Mechanics of tension
Our faulty thoughts in relation to other people and to our surroundings is the root cause of mental and physical tension . Our way of thinking does not harmonize with our external environment. This results in conflicts of interest between us and other people. Our internal environment does not match our pattern of existence.
In other words, our life is comparable to that of a fish without water. We are continually fighting our surroundings instead of merging and flowing with life.
Generally, there are few changes that an individual can make to the external environment. So the change to bring harmony must come from the internal environment, namely one’s attitude to life and other people. If you want to remove tension from your body, you must peacefully coexist with your surroundings and you must no longer separate yourself. You then begin to relax.
Fear, hatred, dislike and jealousy prevent man from fitting in with his surroundings. These factors start to accumulate since birth and cause a disruptive interaction with others. These remain mainly in the subconscious layers of the mind, but have an enormous influence on our daily life. Our minds are full of such fears and complexes, and these are the major causes of tension in our lives.
Physical manifestations of mental tension
Normally the brain supplies the body’s muscles with a continuous weak influx of nerve impulses. This is known as muscular tone and maintains the muscles in a healthy and prepared condition for instant action if required. Every psycho-physiological disturbance every negative and destructive emotion causes conflict in the brain. This interferes with the normal tonic rhythm of the muscles and keeps them in an abnormally high state of tension. This over-activation of the muscles without the corresponding muscular activity results in a continual drain of energy from the body.
This is comparable to the car battery. If you leave the car lights on, after some time, they drain all the power out of the battery. If you turn off the lights when they are not needed, then the energy of the car battery will be conserved. It is the same with the muscles. If you turn off the tension in life, then you can conserve your body energy.
Laughter can help relieve tension in even the heaviest of matters
~ Allen Klein ~
When you think about something, the body automatically prepares itself to transfer the thought into action. The brain and body are two parts of the same unit. They are not separate. For many people these emotional disturbances and their corresponding detrimental physical effects are almost a continuous part of life. People are continually feeling anger, fear, jealousy, etc., which makes them perpetually tense in mind and body and ultimately leads to disease, either physically or mentally or both. There are further repercussions of this continuous muscular tension. The larger energy demands of the muscles require the circulatory, respiratory systems, etc. to work harder to maintain the higher supply of energy.
The body operates in a higher gear. This increased demand on the body processes influences all the muscles controlling the inner organs: intestines, heart, lungs and blood vessels. Now the organs and the associated muscles work harder and under extreme conditions for protracted lengths of time. This can eventually lead to their partial or total failure and this is when disease manifests itself. Initially the organs might work less efficiently and one’s health will insidiously decline. At first you will perhaps not notice the change. This is inevitable, if one cannot fully relax oneself for some time during the day or night.
It takes time and effort to be permanently relaxed. A very high state of permanent relaxation is a very advanced state of yoga called “sahaja samadhi” (spontaneous and natural equanimity) which automatically implies higher consciousness.
Mechanics of relaxation techniques
We must learn to relax like a child. When a child sleeps he forgets all problems. When a child plays, then he really plays and when he works, he really works. And when a child sleeps, he really sleeps. There is full intensity in the activity at hand.
Adults have the habit of mentally working when they sleep and play. And when they work, they have the habit of sleepwalking. So, one basic rule of relaxation is to shut off all thoughts on a conscious level about things that we have completed. We must not dwell or brood over problems. Our subconscious mind actually has great powers to solve problems without any need for the thought processes to be at a conscious level. After having fed the necessary data into the mind about any particular topic, we must just forget about it. The mind will churn out the answer when it is required. We must simply trust our mental capabilities.
Relaxation techniques start by taking our consciousness away from emotionally charged thoughts and directing it to activities that are emotionally neutral such as the awareness of our breath or different parts of our body. During yoga lessons people are told to relax, and though their bodies remain stiff and tense, they believe that they are fully relaxed. It is only when the teacher lifts their arm upwards, and the arm remains straight instead of being limp, that they realize just how stiff the muscles really were. Relaxation techniques require us to consciously order our muscles to relax. Over a period of time of practice it should become possible.
When an animal or child relaxes or sleeps, its muscles sink towards the floor, and where possible assume the same shape as the floor. This is a good indication that there is no undue muscular tension remaining.
In deeper states of relaxation your mind completely detaches from your body. This disconnection produces wonderful effects. The muscle cells, nerve cells, organ cells, blood vessels, etc. totally relax and in this way revitalize. Consequently, this allows the regions of the brain to rest from the continual influx of sensory data from the body and the parts of the body or the breath coaxes the mind away from normal patterns of worry of discontent. This has a wonderful calming influence on the mind. The amount of benefits gained from relaxation techniques is in direct proportion to the degree of mental awareness on the practice in hand.
The higher brain centers impose inhibitions on the body functions. This results in the formation of several ailments. By disconnecting your awareness from your body, the lower brain centers carry out their duties without hindrance from the higher brain centers. The lower brain centers then start to restore equilibrium in the muscle body tone and endocrinal system, thus removes stress and fear. As such the adrenal glands stop injecting adrenaline into the blood system. This brings the body down to a lower level of activity. The whole body is allowed to rest from its continual stimulation.
A reduction in thoughts and worries reduces the adrenaline level in the blood. The reduction of adrenaline in the blood reduces the intensity of emotional and mental conflicts and so on. The overall result must be experienced to be believed: an indescribable feeling of freedom from mental turmoil. You must try it for yourself.
Practices of relaxation
It may seem surprising, but the first step in attaining deep relaxation through asanas (postures)is to tense the whole body. It is only after applying muscular tension to the entire body that you can subsequently allow your whole body to relax. Think of when you did a particularly hard day’s physical work. Do you remember how easy it was to lie down on the bed and rest or sleep? This assumes, of course, that you did not over-exercise your body to make it ache at the end of the day.
Boat pose (Naukasana)
This is a very good asana for relaxing the muscles and joints of the body. It brings immediate relief to people suffering from nervousness and tension.
- Place a folded blanket or mat on the floor.
- Lie flat on the blanket facing upwards (supine).
- Rest your straight arms on the floor beside your body with palms facing downwards.
- Breathe in deeply and retain the breath inside.
- Simultaneously raise your legs, arms and shoulders off the ground.
- Ensure that the arms and legs remain straight.
- Point your arms towards your feet.
- Stretch and tense the whole body.
- Feel that every muscle is tensed.
- Don’t strain, but try to hold this raised position for as long as possible, while retaining your breath.
- Aim at eventually maintaining the raised position for at least a slow count of 10, though at first a count of 5 is sufficient.
- Then allow yourself to slump back to the floor, but without letting your head strike the ground.
- Let the body sink into the floor.
- Slowly count from 1 to 60.
- This completes 1 round.
- Perform 3 rounds.
- After completing 3 rounds of naukasana, remain in the supine pose and relax in shavasana.
Corpse pose (Shavasana)
This asana is also known as mitrasana (the dead man’s pose).
- Lie flat on your back in the supine position.
- Rest the arms in line with and on each side of the body. Leave a little space between the arms and the side of the body. The palms should face upwards and the hands should not be clenched. The legs should be straight and slightly separated.
- Close your eyes.
- Try to feel the different parts of your body in contact with the floor. This is most important for it starts to develop your awareness of the different parts of the body.
- Feel the contact between the floor and the buttocks. If you feel that the muscles of the buttocks are pulled together, release them.
- Keep your attention on the pressure between the floor and the buttocks for a few seconds until you think that this area of the body is relaxed.
- Now try to feel the contact between the ground and the right heel for a few seconds.
- Repeat the same thing with the left heel.
- Now feel the contact between the floor and the right arm, right hand, left arm, left hand, middle of the back, each shoulder blade, the back of the head and finally the whole body; spend a few seconds at each point of contact.
- Next, try to feel that your whole right leg is very heavy and that it is sinking into the floor.
- If you cannot feel this heaviness, don’t worry. A little practice is necessary in the beginning.
- Feel the right leg become limp.
- Repeat the same thing with the left leg. Feel the heaviness of the whole leg and that the leg is becoming limp and sinking into the floor.
- Do this for a few seconds.
- In turn repeat the same thing with the right arm and the left arm.
- If there is tension in your hands, perhaps your hands are partly clenched, release the muscular contraction.
- Feel your shoulders slump into the pillow; remove the load from your shoulders. Many people, because of tension, habitually hunch their shoulders. Let them sink into the pillow.
- Now drop your lower jaw; let it sag, but keeping your mouth closed.
- If you feel yourself frowning, try to release the muscular tension on your forehead.
Important tips while practising shavasana
Throughout the practice your worries or problems may keep appearing. Tell these problems that they will receive your attention after a few minutes as right now you are practising shavasana. Don’t suppress the thoughts if they occur. Merely continue to direct your attention to the systematic relaxation of the different parts of the body in the way we have already explained. If you have time repeat the same process again. If you have managed to carry out these instructions in the way described, with awareness, then you should find that you have attained a wonderful relaxed state, physically and mentally. When you finish the practice, gently move and clench your hands, move your feet and slowly open your eyes.
Shavasana should be practiced for 5-10 minutes with enthusiasm. A little mental effort is necessary, but without mental strain. The duration of the practice should suit the time that is available, the longer the better. Naukasana must be practiced between 3 and 4 minutes.
Shavasana is ideally practised after naukasana because while it creates the tension, shavasana releases it. Shavasana should be practiced whenever you feel tired or tense. It is such a simple practice, yet it can bring wonderful results. It should also be performed after yoga exercises or asanas, and between the practices if you feel a little tired.
Shavasana relaxes the whole physiological and psychological system. A relaxed mind allows you to see and relate to the world and the people around you in a more realistic light, carry out your work more smoothly and attain more happiness in life. By relaxing the mind-body complex, it helps to relieve and prevent diseases. Its benefits are inestimable. You should try it and find out for yourself.