“Summer” © 2012 brenmna, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license
Take a deep breath and let it out with a nice big aaaaahhhhh. Go ahead. No? It’s OK, most people won’t.
To many, relaxation is a luxury. It is something that occurs only after all the projects are complete, the house is clean and the wine is poured. For many, relaxation is seen as sign of weakness. How many of you have lost vacation days because you just couldn’t be away from the office? How many times have you missed an event your child was in because you were busy?
But what if I told you relaxation is the way to getting those projects done? The way to find the peace we crave and letting our unique selves shine?
Relaxation is the second element of meditation. But wait, isn’t relaxation what I am supposed to get because I meditate? Well, yes you can receive relaxation from mediation. But to get relaxed, have to relax. Confused? Good. Keep reading.
How to relax
To relax you must release and let go. This is the process of relaxation. The outcome of relaxation is to feel settled, comfortable or at peace; the state of being relaxed. The short version, you have to relax to be relaxed. And how exactly does one do that? An excellent question. Let’s explore a little more.
Contrary to popular belief, relaxation is not defined as being unmoving or unmotivated. Relaxation involves a restive, peaceful and, dare I say, spiritual balance between us and the universe. Relaxing is a conscious and willful act. If it weren’t, massage therapists would be unemployed because everyone would relax as soon as they fell asleep and all stress, tight muscles and other related ailments would simple fall away overnight. But that is not what happens (at least not for anyone I know). So that means that relaxing must be something to work at, just like breathing.
Legends abound about people who find themselves under a dire threat and are able to miraculously pull through. There are the stories about the mother who pulls a car off her child before the child is crushed; or the solider who, with one act of bravery, saves his squad. Afterwards, in describing their experience, these people often speak of time slowing down, even standing still. They are surprised to find they were totally calm and rational during the whole ordeal. Yet for all that slow, calm rationality they perform some fantastic feats that allowed them to survive.
Believe it or not, these people enter a state of complete relaxation. The intensity of the situation overwhelms their senses and shuts down all thinking except the original mind; that which is truly us. Once this happens, once all the goop of daily life falls away, our true selves shine through and we find a unique kind of peace. In that peace we are truly balanced and one with the universe around us. So how do we get there without throwing ourselves into mortal danger? Meditation, of course. I have two great steps to help.
Step one: become aware of your breath.
Step two: relax and let go.
Like breathing we must practice relaxation in order to receive the benefits. Here is an exercise that will help you.
Come to a comfortable lying position, whatever that looks like. Start with six good breaths. Inhale through your nose, and exhale a little longer than you inhaled back out through your mouth. Make a little sound or sigh if it feels right. Once you have done that, take a few moments to feel your body. Look for (without judging, very important, NO JUDGING) any tight, cool or cold or empty spots in your body (yes I will explain cool/cold and empty in a later post, but you will know it when you feel it in your own body). Pick one spot that felt tight, cool or cold (skip empty for now). Focus on that place and take 10 conscious breaths. With each breath, encourage (but do not force) that place to release, relax or open, whatever word works for you. Make sure to relax your eyes while you do this.
Next take three deep breaths into the nose and release them through the mouth with a nice aaaahhhhh sound. Return to your place of focus and simply notice, how does that spot feel? The same? Warmer? Colder? Tighter? Looser? There are no right answers, just what you feel. However, with practice (if it didn’t happen this time) those areas should move more towards the warmer/looser categories. If not, and you want to try again, you should. If time permits I recommend you slowly start increasing the time and number of breaths allotted for this exercise. If you count breaths, adding 5 breaths each time you want to increase is good. If you go by time, 30 second increments would be my recommendation. Each time you repeat the exercise, take note of the effects on your body, mind and breathing. You may find journaling about the changes and how they evolve helpful, but it’s not mandatory.
And for this week’s homework: If you have been able to carve out the time for 10 breaths each day, try moving to 15 with the same pattern, and give yourself a little time before and after to check in with your body and your mind to see if you can find any differences. And as always, don’t judge what you feel. There is no right or wrong answer to “how do you feel?”