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- What is relaxation?
isn't something which we do willfully.
- Techniques of
What is relaxation? It is a time
when we set aside our responsibilities, pressures, and sensory
overload. We can be ourselves, pursuing our interests, relaxing our
minds and bodies, and living at our own pace. "The world" seems far
away as we put our attention on ourselves, our feelings, and our
isn't something which we do willfully. It is something that we
allow to happen. We become receptive to our natural
tendencies, and we allow our thoughts to roam, and we let our bodies
indulge in the activities which feel best to it. Our skill lies in
sensing that spontaneity and being able to get out of its way.
Techniques of relaxation.
- We take relaxation on its own terms. We are not truly relaxing
if we spend this time merely recharging for work; relaxation must
be done for its own sake and on its own terms. To have a goal
("recharging") is to keep us in the brain's production-oriented
left hemisphere, but it is the right hemisphere which creates
regeneration and pleasure -- and it's those two elements which
actually recharge us for our return to work.
- We can use active techniques of relaxation. Relaxation doesn't
have to mean total slothfulness, which is stressful for some
people. We may select any activity which is enjoyable and
captivating to mind and body; these attributes engage the right
hemisphere. Relaxation doesn't even have to be "escapist"; some
people relax through common tasks such as gardening and chores.
Our leisure can be as structured as a bridge game, or as free-form
as a romp at the park. It can even be as strenuous as exercise,
which burns off tension and pulls us into our bodies and away from
the mental chattering (as long as we aren't fretting about scores
- We can use passive techniques of relaxation. The basic way to
relax is through sleep and daytime naps; if we don't get enough
sleep, our muscles are tense and our concentration is diminished.
In addition to sleeping, other passive techniques include a hot
bath or sauna, soothing music, meditation, yoga and other
stretching exercises, visualization of calm scenes, deep
breathing, a heating pad, a massage (from ourselves or someone
else), autogenic training (in which we sequentially imagine each
part of the body becoming heavy), natural scenery (in a book,
video, or real life), and yawning with the whole face and neck.
- We can try these relaxation methods.
- Feel heaviness in each part of the body. Start at the feet
(or the head) and feel it being very heavy; totally surrender
to gravity, and release any tension which would prevent that
part from succumbing to the natural downward pull. Remain with
that part until it is thoroughly relaxed. Then proceed to every
other part of the body, one at a time. During this meditation,
we might simply feel the actual heaviness of the part, or we
might exaggerate that weight by imaging (or visualizing) that
it is many tons. Although the part can be allowed to sink
naturally under the influence of gravity, we can also test this
state of relaxation by pressing that part firmly toward the
floor, to see how much farther it might be able to go, and then
relaxing the part. A variation of this exercise is to feel
"lightness" (rather than heaviness); experience your body
becoming so serene and light that it could float into the sky.
- Count from ten to one, very slowly, feeling yourself relax
more with each number. Before doing this, tell yourself that
each successive number will take you to a deeper state of rest.
We can simply "think" these numbers, or we can associate them
with a visualization -- for example, a stairway in which each
downward step is numbered (10, 9, 8, 7, etc.).
- Feel a warm energy radiating from the heart into every
other area of the body. We can simply feel this energy, or we
can visualize it, perhaps as a yellow light (or a different
color). A variation is to feel the energy emanating from the
"hara" (the body's center of energy, about two inches below the
navel, in the middle of the body).
- As you focus on each part individually, first tighten the
muscles there as much as possible, and hold this contracted
position for three seconds; then relax, and notice the contrast
between the previous tension and the current state. Do this for
every part of the body.
- Breathe deeply but easily, and feel or visualize the stress
leaving with each exhalation. In addition to, or instead of,
working with the exhalation, we can use our inhalation
--to imagine a soothing energy coming into us. Whichever method
we use, we can see these activities affecting the entire body
simultaneously, or separate parts individually; for example,
we'd draw the tension from the right foot, and then breathe it
- Notice any tense areas. As our general stress level drops,
we will notice particular areas which remain tight. In some
types of bodywork, these tensions are considered to be the
locations where emotional traumas have been embedded in the
body. By contacting these parts of us, and allowing them to
tell us their story, we can start to release both the
psychological distress and the corresponding physical
discomfort. However, when we encounter these "stories," we
might re-experience the original emotional anguish, so we must
be prepared to meet them with love and an intention to resolve
them. Focus your attention on one of these areas, with
acceptance and a gentle curiosity. Then allow any information
to come to you from this part of your body; the "message" might
be in the form of a memory (perhaps of a childhood accident
which injured this part), or a visual image (perhaps in
dream-like symbolism, or a literal picture of a parent who
repeatedly scolded you harshly), or a "still, small voice" (as
though that part is speaking to you), or simply an intuitive
knowingness. Try to sense the appropriate statement to say in
response to each tense area: we might need to say, "That was in
the past, and we are all right now" or "I love you and accept
you" or a similar comforting phrase. Send a warm, loving energy
to that part, and feel the part relaxing in response to your
kindness. Then feel the relief and relaxation which occur. (As
you go through your day, notice any occasions when you are
embedding new tensions in your body; we can use these tensions
as feedback on how well we are managing the situations of our
life -- both the external challenges and any internal
conflicts.) As you say the comforting phrase, notice any
feelings or thoughts which would contradict that statement; for
example, as you highlight your legs, you might realize that you
think that your legs are too fat, or that another part is
shameful, disgusting, inadequate, weak, or bothersome; we might
have implanted hateful judgments into many parts of our body.
Even an evaluation of approval is stifling to the
body; for example, if we think that our hair is "beautiful"
according to any standard, we are approaching the body through
the viewpoint of analysis and judgment, rather than
experiencing it in its own right with our nourishing love,
affection, and acceptance. The problem is not that
judgmentalness is "wrong" but rather that it is a state in
which we aren't seeing the part for what it is -- and we are
not interacting with it dynamically and permitting our living
energy to flow to it.
- Meditate on your body as a process and a flow (rather than
as a physical object). Feel the movement of air in the lungs,
and the blood in the veins and arteries, and the energy from
one point to another. Sense the body as a system in which
everything is changing, everything is alive, everything is
active within the overall energy dynamics, everything is
related to all of the other parts.
- Give gentle instructions to relax. While attending to each
part of the body, mentally whisper a word such as "relax" or
"soften" or another phrase which is effective for you.
- Imagine the tension melting like ice on a warm day. As this
ice melts, it turns into water and then it flows out of our
hands or our feet.
- Experience relaxation as a natural state. As you focus on
the various parts of the body individually, let each part seek
its own ideal state of relaxation. Be attentive to its need to
release tension. But then, in the place of the tension, feel
that part establishing its muscle tone and effortless
alertness; let it guide you into the condition which is most
comfortable and efficient for it. Relaxation is not a state of
lethargy and inactivity -- as in a corpse -- but rather one in
which our living body experiences the proper degree of tonality
and a constant, subtle movement.
- Adapt other techniques which are described in this book.
Those techniques can be used for relaxation. For example, we
might use visualization -- imagining ourselves in a tranquil
scene. Or we can use mindfulness -- being attentive to our
body, and the tensions, and the pleasure that it finds in
relaxation. Or we can make a mandala which incorporates images
which calm us. Most breathing exercises can create a state of
serenity. We can use mantras such as "peace" or "stillness" or
"I am relaxed." Many types of moving meditation -- tai chi,
hatha yoga, etc. -- help to soothe the body as well as the