– Article by Arhanta Yoga Graduate Karen
Proper relaxation is one of the 5 points of yoga, as summarized by Swami Vishnu-Devananda, together with proper exercise, proper breathing, proper diet and positive thinking. How important is having proper relaxation moments, not only in a yoga session, but also in daily life? Personally, I didn’t see its relevance in the past, I skipped resting for long periods when I had too much work and similarly, in my personal practice I just skipped the relaxation moments when I had less time. Why was it wrong?
In every action we do during the day, conscious or unconscious, we are spending energy. Not only the physical actions, but also the continuous generation of thoughts and emotions like anger and sadness, consume a big amount of energy. The body needs to restore that energy in order to work properly and to heal itself, otherwise it becomes weak and ill. This only happens when we rest properly. We can help it to do so by practicing a proper relaxation.
In general, relaxation is the release of physical and mental tension to regain energy and to return to a state of balance. But sometimes we don’t release our tensions spontaneously and it seems like going to sleep at night is not enough.
Modern lifestyle doesn’t make it easy. The work demands, the food we eat, the entertainments (like watching a horror movie or going to dance after a tiring work day) have become distractions that in some way make us forget to listen our body.
We are also used to have stress. Because of difficult life situations and responsibilities, emotions and thoughts usually run out of control and this creates imbalances in our body. It affects the heart beat, blood pressure, digestive system, it produces unnecessary tension in some muscles, our nervous system keeps the body on alert, and we keep losing more and more energy unnecessarily. We have forgotten how to maintain our energy level and how to recharge it. Moreover, we are not aware of the importance of this balance.
Therefore, we need to become aware of our body. We need to learn how to relax. What are the benefits of relaxation? The body economizes its energy, so the organs can work properly, the body can heal and have a healthy life.
And if we talk specifically about the case of the asana practice, we can find a lot of benefits of a proper relaxation. Doing it at the beginning helps us to focus on the breath and to prepare for the practice, balancing the body temperature and blood pressure. Practicing relaxations in between the asanas prevents the formation of lactic acid, which can be painful afterwards, and keep the parasympathetic nervous system activated. In addition, the final relaxation allows the tissues to repair and become stronger, and at the same time the body and mind can also integrate the changes produced during the practice. And, the most important in my opinion, it helps to train your awareness.
A good way to do it is in Shavasana, corps pose. A simple posture in which we lay down on the back, with feet separated mat width apart and dropping outwards, arms separated 40 degrees from the body, palms facing up. It has been proven that this is the most effective way to rest and to reduce stress in a shorter time, better than sitting still.
To practice physical relaxation, we need to bring our awareness to the different parts of the body and to ask them to relax consciously. Have you discovered yourself with the shoulder muscles squeezed after a long day of work? This is the moment to send them the message to relax. The thought is transmitted to the brain, the signal goes through the nerves to finally arrive to the muscles (in the same way when we need to move them, but this time we ask them to relax). This act is called autosuggestion. We can practice autosuggestion, laying in Shavasana, starting from the toes and going upward to the top of the head. The message of relaxation can even be sent to the inner organs.
As body and mind are linked, we also need to become mentally relaxed, to release the tension produced by unnecessary worries. We can do it by breathing slowly and rhythmically and by focusing in the breath for some minutes. It sounds simple, but it can be challenging. We need to practice and develop awareness.
If we train our awareness, maybe one day we will be able to go one step forward and reach to a deeper level of relaxation, achieving spiritual relaxation, in which we can withdraw from the body and ego, identifying with the pure consciousness within ourselves, the soul.
Our own relaxation can be as challenging as pleasant. What about the relaxation of others? We come to Arhanta Yoga to become yoga teachers, and as yoga teachers we need to give the same importance to our student’s relaxation and transmit them its relevance in the practice. Guiding them properly, so they can obtain all the benefits of its practice, can be also difficult. The tone of voice and the right words are the tools that we can train to help the students to relax, with calm and gentle intention.
Finally, it is important not to underestimate the importance of our relaxation and rest, and no confuse it with laziness. It has lots of benefits for our physical, mental and emotional life and neglecting it can produce health problems. So my final recommendation: learn to listen to your body and do not feel guilty for enjoying a nice relaxation.