Ah, to be able to relax and let the world drift by.
To be able to switch off the tension and anxious thoughts and focus on the here and now.
To connect to inner peace no matter what the world sends your way, and remain connected to that sense of inner peace…
Perhaps you find yourself wishing you could feel this way but that inner peace feels an elusive dream?
Let me assure you dear one, that it IS possible. It is possible to relax at will. It is possible to let go of the whirlpool of thoughts whizzing around your mind.
It just takes awareness and practice.
Practise your relaxation skills
So, the skill #1 to develop to connect to this apparently elusive inner peace is that of awareness.
Check in regularly with how you’re feeling during each day.
And skill #2 is to learn and practise how to distinguish between tension and relaxation.
Your body is designed to hold a certain amount of tension in your body, it’s called muscle tone and is the normal state of balanced tension in the muscles of the body i.e. some of our muscles need to be contracted when we’re sitting so our body remains upright and we don’t just flop over like a weeble.
However, muscle tension occurs when muscles stay contracted for long periods of time and arises from bad postural habits and from stress and emotions getting lodged in our bodies.
So, for example, if you have a habit of sitting round-shouldered at your desk then the muscles around the front of your shoulders are going to wind up constantly contracted and tense. With your head poking forwards peering at your screen the muscles of the upper back and base of your neck contract end up over-working and the muscles get tense and hard and knotty.
If you’re pressured and stressed chances are you’re breathing shallowly so the muscles of the respiratory system are suffering from a combination of under-use and tension.
If you’re frequently swallowing your words and biting your lip and not expressing yourself, chances are you’re holding a lot of tension in your throat and neck.
Yoga helps us back to balance through its physical practices of stretching and strengthening.
But I think the real magic happens when we shine the light of awareness with mindfulness – kind, compassionate, non-judgmental awareness.
1. Body Scan – awareness
The practice of yoga is a practice of self-awareness; of self-study. Only when we perceive what we’re feeling can we even start to know what we need! And in yoga, we begin with the body – the physical layer of our experience (known in yoga as the Annamaya Kosha).
So, let’s begin. Take a baseline of how your body feels now.
Sit comfortably or lie down – close your eyes if that feels OK for you.
Beginning with your feet, how do they feel? Can you feel any tension there? On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is completely relaxed and 10 is held rigid, how do your feet feel?
Scan your awareness through each part of your body and apply the scale where 1 is completely soft, at ease and relaxed, and 10 is held rigid.
Calves and shins, knees, thighs. Hips, pelvis and groin. Buttock muscles. Abdomen. Lower back. Spine and muscles around the spine. Upper back and chest. Shoulders. Arms. Hands. Neck. Face.
Pay particular tension to any areas where you know you have a tendency to hold tension.
You’re not trying to change anything. You’re noticing – mindful, kind, curious, non-judgmental noticing.
Also notice any thoughts of “I don’t know how I feel there”. When we live in our busy minds we can feel cut off from our body, so the process of awareness is a practice too. Don’t give up! (Or you may prefer to work with the next practice for a few days or weeks first before you work the body scan.)
How do you feel now? Perhaps just shining the light of awareness has eased some of the tension already?
2. Tense and Relax – learning the difference
With this exercise we consciously tense each part of the body then let it relax so we learn to really feel the difference between the two sensations.
Again, sit or lie comfortably. Close your eyes if that feels OK for you.
Now go through the same scanning process.
But this time as you inhale tighten and tense the muscles in each area, exhale let go. Exaggerate the tension. Feel your breath holding too. Feel the stuck energy and tension. And exhale to deeply release and let go.
Begin with your feet. Then calves and shins. Knees. Thighs. Hips, pelvis and groin. Buttock muscles. Abdomen. Lower back. Spine and muscles around the spine. Upper back and chest. Shoulders. Arms. Hands. Neck. Face.
How was that? Stay for a few moments and just breathe here now.
Tension = effort
Did you notice how you create the tension, but the relaxation happens naturally when you consciously release the tension?
That’s a really important lesson to learn.
Relaxation is a natural response which occurs when we create the right conditions. We can’t force it!
When we come into the here and now and inhabit out body; when we breathe deeply; when we focus on a releasing exhale, relaxation will happen.
Relaxation will naturally happen when we stop creating tension.
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. (Chinese proverb)