Living with mind and body relaxed is our natural state, our birthright -- it is only the pace of our lives that has made us forget. Those who retain the art possess the key to good health, vitality and peace of mind, for relaxation is a tonic for the whole being, liberating vast resources of energy.
The state of our minds and the state of our bodies are intimately linked. If your muscles are relaxed, then your mind must be relaxed. If the mind is anxious, then the body suffers too. All action originates in the mind. When the mind receives a stimulus that alerts it to the need for action, it sends a message via the nerves to contract the muscles in readiness. In the hustle and bustle of the modern world, the mind is continuously bombarded with stimuli which may cause us to freeze in the alerted "fight or flight" pattern of response. As a result, many people spend much of their lives -- even while asleep -- in a state of physical and mental tension. Everyone has their own particular trouble spots -- whether it is a clenched jaw, a furrowed brow, or a stiff neck. This unnecessary tension not only causes a lot of discomfort but is an enormous drain on our energy resources and a major cause of tiredness and ill-health. For energy is being used both to tell the muscles to contract and to keep them contracted, even if we are only half aware of it.
In this section we present the technique of relaxation, that is an essential part of your yoga practice. There are three parts to proper relaxation -- physical, mental and spiritual relaxation. To relax the body, you lie down in the Corpse Pose and first tense then relax each part of the body in turn, working up from your feet to your head. This alternate tensing then relaxing is necessary because it is only by knowing how tension feels that you can be sure that you have achieved relaxation. Then, just as in normal life your mind instructs the muscles to tense and contract, you now use autosuggestion to send the muscles a message to relax. With practice you will gradually learn to use your subconscious mind to extend this control to the involuntary muscles of the heart, the digestive systems and other organs too.
To relax and focus the mind you breathe steadily and rhythmically and concentrate on your breathing. Mental and physical relaxation can never be complete, however, until you achieve spiritual peace. For as long as you identify with your body and mind, there will be fears and worries, anger and sorrow. Spiritual relaxation means detaching yourself, becoming a witness of the body and mind, in order to identify with the Self or pure consciousness -- the source of truth and peace that lies within us all.
As you relax, you will feel sensations of melting down, of expansion, lightness and warmth. When all muscular tension is gone, a gentle euphoria suffuses the whole body. Relaxation is not so much a state as a process, a series of levels of increasing depth. It is a matter of letting go, instead of holding on; of not doing, rather than doing. As you relax the whole body and breathe slowly and deeply, certain physiological changes occur: less oxygen is consumed and less carbon dioxide eliminated; muscle tension is reduced; and there is a decrease in the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and an increase in parasympathetic activity. Even a few minutes of deep relaxation will reduce worry and fatigue more effectively than many hours of restless sleep.
The Corpse Pose
The Corpse Pose or Savasana is the classic relaxation pose, practised before each session, between asanas and in Final Relaxation. It looks deceptively simple, but it is in fact one of the most difficult asanas to do well and one which changes and develops with practice. At the end of an asana session your Corpse Pose will be more complete than at the beginning because the other asanas will have progressively stretched and relaxed your muscles. When you first lie down, look to see that you are lying symmetrically as symmetry provides proper space for all parts to relax. Now start to work in the pose. Rotate your legs in and out, then let them fall gently out to the sides. Do the same with your arms. Rotate the spine by turning your head from side to side to centre it. Then start stretching yourself out, as though someone were pulling your head away from your feet, your shoulders down and away from your neck, your legs down and away from your pelvis. Let gravity embrace you. Feel your weight pulling you deeper into relaxation, melting your body into the floor. Breathe deeply and slowly from the abdomen, riding up and down on the breath, sinking deeper with each exhalation. Feel how your abdomen swells and falls. Many important physiological changes are taking place, reducing the body's energy loss, removing stress, lowering your respiration and pulse rate, and resting the whole system. As you enter deep relaxation, you will feel your mind grow clear and detached.
Copyright © 1983, 2000 by Gaia Books Limited
Text copyright © 1983, 2000 by Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center