When the asleep body, numb and deadened to the world of the senses, awakens, it is a resurrection that reveals to us that love is stronger than death.
all about love, bell hooks
Today I am writing about the importance of Deep Rest. Everyone knows the importance of exercise and movement. But what about the importance of stillness and deep rest and relaxation? It is equally important. How do you relax? It is usually the case that when we feel stressed, tired, or overwhelmed with life, we say to those around us or to ourselves, “I just want to relax.” It is often a desperate pleading kind of statement; we’ve had enough of dealing with whatever is causing us stress and tension. But our ways to relax are often just as stimulating and stressful. We sit on the couch and watch TV or scroll through our phones. We distract ourselves with eating or drinking (alcohol), bringing more stress on the body. Recently, I was throwing some snacks into my daughter’s lunch bag and noticed that the Sargento's Balanced Break container label said, “to help you relax.”
With all of this distraction and stimulation, our adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system are constantly in overdrive. Prolonged stimulation of the adrenal glands and sympathetic nervous system can lead to the common disorders of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, ulcers, mental disturbances, backache, skin problems, muscular twitches, stress, anxiety, depression, and a host of other problems. Remember the sympathetic nervous system is concerned with getting the body ready to act‒to fight or run in flight. This response is stimulated when we encounter threats to our survival. But let's be clear. We can read something online or watch something on television that can elicit this same stress response in the body. Sleep is the usual way to rest and counteract these problems, but a lot of people are so tense or overstimulated they do not relax during sleep. Also, if one suffers from insomnia, there is very little relief.
It is only during deep relaxation that the body processes can return to their normal levels of activity (homeostasis). The practice of yoga postures (āsana) strengthens our nervous system, and the practice of relaxation and śavāsana soothes the nerves. It is the perfect relationship.
There are a few steps to preparing for relaxation.
Practice some yoga postures to prepare the body to rest.
Try to move the spine in all directions‒backbends, forward bends, side bends, twists, flexion, and extension.
Stillness in relaxation postures involves silent observation of the bodymind. This practice cannot be gained by force. “Trying” to relax or efforting too much disrupts the positive benefits of the practices. Resting in stillness is challenging if the bodymind is disturbed by:
Stimulating foods/beverages (sugar, caffeine, preservatives, artificial sugars, alcohol).
Stress hormones/stress response.
Good food and lifestyle choices are a good investment in the health of your nervous system and energy.
Stillness includes finding the perfect corpse pose, the perfect pose for your relaxation. It can be adapted for sleepiness, injury, pregnancy, or other conditions. An experienced teacher can help you find the right pose and suggest adjustments as each person’s body type is unique.
Awareness is the single most powerful ally in the healing and transformation process. Joseph LePage.
The process of awareness is identifying how you are nurturing and cleansing through each layer of being (koshas) to reveal your true essence.
Awareness brings an understanding of blocks that are created by patterns in our thinking, emotional, and energetic life.
It allows healing through the energy centers (chakras).
It integrates all layers of being to allow healing.
As we begin to clear away these blocks, we may uncover healing resources that were not there before. We gain access to our inner healer.
With the realization of our inner Self, healing occurs, whether or not our physical symptoms are relieved;
Awareness allows us to trust ourselves through each layer.
Our inner healer teaches us how to communicate through intuition, direct perception, and deep listening;
It also awakens our witness consciousness; and
It facilitates healing through the elements, which are related to our own energy.
Attention on the Breath.
Practice in developing a diaphragmatic breath that is deep, smooth, even, without sound, and without pause.
Spend a few minutes here in your relaxation pose simply watching the breath.
Sometimes you go to a yoga class and at the end of the class, the teacher instructs you to lie on your back with the room in total silence. Your mind either goes into a stupor or you start thinking about what you are going to do after class, what you did yesterday, or what you think will happen tomorrow. Systematic relaxation is the method used in my tradition. Just as the physical yoga postures are a practice so is leaning to rest and relax. Be patient and compassionate with yourself.
Follow a course from the crown of the head to the toes and then back up. Follow this sequence with breath awareness. See the script attached that you can record in your own voice while you practice. Ideally, this process takes 10-12 minutes
Benefits of systematic relaxation:
Muscle tension is reduced.
Venous circulation is improved.
The whole nervous system is toned.
Fatigue and stress are relieved.
The heart is rested.
The distribution of blood is uniform.
The breathing becomes slow, deep, and rhythmic.
Used to cure degeneration of the nerves and high blood pressure.
Stimulates healthy physiological function by normalizing:
Blood pressure and flow
Improves digestion and elimination.
Increases flexibility of joints.
Limbers spinal column and aids in an upright posture.
Strengthens the nervous system.
Tones the endocrine system.
According to Adi-Shankara, the founder of Advaita philosophy, the practitioner’s duty consists of two things...controlling the senses and concentrating the mind.
Without concentration, the energy of the mind dissipates in vague thoughts, worries, or fantasies, leaving little room for growth and focus.
Stabilizes the mind and provides equanimity.
This conscious relaxation of the body and the mind removes all tensions and invigorates both. The process is like recharging the battery of a car. Swami Rama
Some associate this practice with hypnosis. However, in hypnosis, the mind receives suggestions, which the client willingly accepts. During systematic muscle relaxation, you are giving relaxed awareness to each area, and this allows the bodymind to release tension and rest in a natural way for the practitioner.
Yogis have been saying for years that we are already hypnotized by the expectations and suggestions of the world. Yoga is the way for awakening our own unique awareness, not putting it to sleep or covering it up with more suggestions.
Relaxation exercises are the bridge between yoga postures and the more subtle practices of self-awareness found in meditation. During relaxation, after an asana practice, the mind and body have time to assimilate the effects of the poses that were done. The experience of the postures is reverberated through the muscles, organs, and soft tissue, creating new patterns of awareness and internal sensation, and new possibilities of movement. Relaxation is a tool for calming the senses and the mind.
Yogic methods for developing concentration are scientific and exact, and, in all of them, attention and willful withdrawal of attention are brought under conscious control. Then, in the second stage of concentration, voluntary and involuntary movements of the mind are brought under conscious control. Swami Rama
Systematic Relaxation Practice
Begin by tensing the whole body, hold for several seconds, and release. Notice the difference between tension and relaxation.
Withdraw your mind from all external matters and activities and become aware of your body. Mentally visualize your body from the crown of the head to the tips of the toes.
Guide your awareness to your breath at the nostrils. Feel the qualities of the breath slow, even, long, and full.
Guide your awareness to the crown of the head.
Soften the brow and behind the brow, the eyebrows, eyelids, and eyes themselves.
Soften the skin of the face, the chin, and the jaw.
Relax the front, sides, and back of the neck.
Soften the shoulders down and soften both arms to the tips of the fingers.
Soften the chest, the belly, and the organs of the belly.
Soften the hips and down both legs to the tips of your toes. (Rest here several breaths.)
Guide your awareness to the back of the body, softening the calves, back of the thighs, buttocks, and hips.
Soften the low back, the mid-back, and the upper back, allowing the muscles to soften away from the bones.
Soften the back of the neck and the back of the head.
Rest your awareness back at the crown of the head, feeling relaxed in mind, body, and breath.
Breathe as if the whole body is breathing. Relax mental effort.
When ready, wiggle fingers and toes, roll to your side and come up to a seated position.