The Art of Relaxation
Relaxation sounds easy- one simply flops on the sofa with the TV on or slides into bed, closes the eyes and sleeps. Perhaps you like to go out for a drink (or several) or pop to get lost for a while in someone else’s story. Maybe you blast it out in the gym or if your lucky have a local yoga class!
Chilling out is different for every person but the space of true relaxation is not. You may notice from the examples above - obvious or simple they may be- that often we are distracting ourselves from our accumulated tensions with another activity - instead of releasing what needs to be made free, we ‘tune out’ the internal messages that are asking us to listen, digest and then tenderly reset the balance.
I believe to invite relaxation into our lives we need to face some of what we avoid: dealing with the angst from previous hurts that have dented our ego, feelings that get pushed away or clung onto, eventually clogging the system.
Tension often appears when our way of thinking, which is constantly being formed through our past experience does not match up with other people and our external surroundings. A non-ideal scenario different from the planned path seems an injustice; conflicting with how we had perceived ourselves to be or how we want others to see us.
This disturbance & resulting negative emotion causes a physiological response : muscles tense and adrenalin is released into the blood-stream - this is a high state of activation is implemented by the sympathetic nervous system ready for a fight or flight scenario that rarely comes to pass: resulting in a continual drain of energy from the body known as chronic fatigue.
This kind of continuous leak of our life force has huge repercussions on our mental and physical wellbeing: poor digestion of food and emotions, strained heart health and high blood pressure, hormone imbalances , lowered immune system and inability to focus on what really matters while being in the flow of life.
Stress is now an epidemic. In yoga classes I see the effect of this accumulated stress in clamped shut jaws and jutted chins, hunched or high shoulders which are almost strangling the neck, tight hips that won’t let you sit, breath that’s held hostage or over exerted in dramatically forced postures whipped through in double time performed with a glazed gaze. We have all been there and this is why we practice yoga and meditation as the art of relaxation.
Some stress is an important part of life, infact for many it is motivating! It is also not a realistic expectation that we can not be ‘up’ all the time: life is made of polarities and this is what gives it form, shape, colour and texture ! Yoga believes it is the right of every individual to live a happy life- but this does not mean a life without hardships, emotions and responsibilities. Emotions exist and are beautiful- it’s how we ride them that counts.
Stress cycles have a strong grip and require a conscious effort and space to be recognised- ‘yes I am tense, perhaps I am stuck in a pattern of thinking that though familiar brings me down and I need to trace that too it’s source and then let it move through me so I can heal’
We must also recognise how precious our life energy, our prana is. It is something to be looked after, loved and nurtured in the same way it completely carries us we must care for it. The best way is to relax!
Most of us don’t really know how to relax- and paradoxically relaxation actually takes a bit of effort.
Firstly lets define relaxation as ‘a release of tension in both the mind and the body for a period of time to allow complete rest and revitalisation.’ ( Yoga and Kriya , Bihar Publications)
This is the reason for sleep- though nowadays due to constant high levels of stimulus and stress, sleep no longer performs its proper function- or we continue to worry while we sleep.
It is vitally important to gain proper relaxation so our body and mind functions well. Relaxation is that space to recharge our batteries and reset our mind so we can find inner clarity in external chaos. We can not do much about to control our external environment but we can do a little to control our inner landscape and find peace and happiness.
This is the whole reason for yoga and meditation. To offer you the tools to find some serenity by connecting to your truth, that which illumes all that we do- known in yoga as the self. Meditation does not ask you to withdraw from the world in a crystal bubble but to dig up the complexes and conflicts that are rooted deep in the garden jungle of the mind: pruning that which has withered and watering what needs to grow.
You may think ‘how is meditation relaxing if I have to do all this digging, pruning and watering, in-fact it sounds quite effortful… and isn’t yoga exercise?!”
But how do you feel when you have spent some time digging outdoors- when you have put the effort in spring cleaning your flat? Both the outer and inner space get a bit of an overhaul.
In yoga physical postures are a way of creating space in the body and circulating prana. A strengthening, dynamic or flowing asana practice allows us to remember and to re-whole ourselves with the whole that we are part of. It allows us to feel the magic energy in our gifted body to help bring it into balance and find joy in that. From this we are able to move through the world with more ease, we function better and can help others, whoever may need it.
Taking time to sit quietly gives us access to different parts of our mind that perform different functions and as you sit it is often challenging as so much starts to surface. A cognitive cocktail of the present, past and future ego based thoughts cloud the self, blurring the core of our existence and that which exists as relaxed simplistic contentment.
So please enjoy some movement as a ritual release and embrace all part of you in meditation- this the formula to increase relaxation in your life: we must be the change we want to see. Do not worry if it is challenges you, how can we face challenges in life if we can not sit with ourselves? You may feel it is boring: most of us are addicted to stimulus with minds melted from flash ad technology craving distraction over depth and dharma ( realisation of our life’s path). Be kind to your self but firm with your resolve to ‘peel away the stress’ ( Shiva Rea, Ireland June 2019).
Over time, the fruits of meditation come as more clarity and fulfilment. We can also be less reactive. Recognition of beautiful moments over buying things - less attachment and more appreciation. All of this really helps us release the anxiety around what’s happening outside of us, realising actually ‘in this moment I am ok’.
Some of my most useful stress busting activities are:
Gentle outdoor swimming, sound healing, at studios such as The Well Garden and The Life Centre, listening to recordings of Yoga Nidra, meditation with Mala bead for focus, breathing with awareness , massage with someone you trust, drawing and of course spending time with animals like my cat, Burt.