Now we have a problem. You have experienced calmness and have rested your body by performing the prescribed relaxation technique. Yet ten minutes later you meet someone whom you intensely dislike. Your tranquillity and well-being immediately disappear. Adrenaline is released. You become your abnormal normal self-depressed, angry, aggressive and uptight self. Your mind has been programmed to respond in that manner. You had no choice but to be angry when you happened to meet that person.
Your brain is a computer and it has been conditioned since birth. You responded in the way that you did because of your mental programming. You are at the mercy of the way that your mind has been conditioned to act. The root cause of your chronic tension lies in your emotional reactions to people and situations around you. And your reaction is determined by your conditioning. Is there no way out of this dilemma – anger, fear, etc? The answer is to change the program in your brain so that you don’t respond in a negative way when you meet a particular situation. However this cannot be achieved overnight. But with patience it can be done. It is this subject that we intend to discuss in the next lesson.
Practices for relaxation
It may seem surprising, but the first step in attaining deep relaxation through asanas is to tense the whole body. It is only after applying muscular tension to the entire body that you can subsequently allow your whole body to relax. Think of when you did a particularly hard day’s physical work. Do you remember how easy it was to lie down on the bed and rest or sleep? This assumes, of course, that you did not over-exercise your body to make it ache at the end of the day.
This is a very good asana for relaxing the muscles and joints of the body. It brings immediate relief to people suffering from nervousness and tension.
Place a folded blanket or rug on the floor. Lie flat on the blanket facing upwards (supine). Rest your straight arms on the floor beside your body with palms facing downwards. Breathe in deeply and retain the breath inside. Simultaneously raise your legs, arms and shoulders off the ground. Ensure that the arms and legs remain straight. Point your arms towards your feet. Try not to raise the feet or shoulders more than 15 cms from the ground. Stretch and tense the whole body. Feel that every muscle is tensed. Don’t strain, but try to hold this raised position for as long as possible, while retaining your breath. Aim at eventually maintaining the raised position for at least a slow count of 10, though at first a count of 2 or 3 is sufficient. Then allow yourself to slump back to the floor, but without letting your head strike the ground. Let the body sink into the floor. Slowly count from 1 to 60. This completes 1 round. Perform 3 rounds. After completing 3 rounds of naukasana remain in the supine pose and relax in shavasana.
Naukasana requires great effort. Those people who find it impossible to raise their body should tense the whole body while remaining on the ground. However, this alternative is much less effective than the raised position.
This asana is also known as mitrasana (the dead man’s pose). In this topic we will consider only part 1 of shavasana.
Lie flat on your back in the supine position. Place a small pillow or folded blanket behind your head with the corners pulled under the shoulders; this ensures that your neck and shoulder muscles can relax. Don’t use a thick pillow for this will tend to cause more tension by arching your neck upwards excessively. Rest the arms in line with and on each side of the body. Leave a little space between the arms and the side of the body.
The palms should face upwards and the hands should not be clenched. The legs should be straight and slightly separated. Close your eyes.
Try to feel the different parts of your body in contact with the floor. This is most important for it starts to develop your awareness of the different parts of the body. Feel the contact between the floor and the buttocks. If you feel that the muscles of the buttocks are pulled together, release them.
Keep your attention on the pressure between the floor and the buttocks for a few seconds until you think that this area of the body is relaxed. Now try to feel the contact between the ground and the right heel for a few seconds. Repeat the same thing with the left heel. Now feel the contact between the floor and the right arm, right hand, left arm, left hand, middle of the back, each shoulder blade, the back of the head and finally the whole body; spend a few seconds at each point of contact. Next, try to feel that your whole right leg is very heavy and that it is sinking into the floor. If you cannot feel this heaviness, don’t worry – a little practice is necessary in the beginning. Feel the right leg become limp. Repeat the same thing with the left leg. Feel the heaviness of the whole leg and that the leg is becoming limp and sinking into the floor. Do this for a few seconds. In turn repeat the same thing with the right arm and the left arm.
If there is tension in your hands, perhaps your hands are partly clenched, release the muscular contraction. Feel your shoulders slump into the pillow; remove the load from your shoulders. Many people, because of tension, habitually hunch their shoulders. Let them sink into the pillow. Now drop your lower jaw; let it sag, but keeping your mouth closed. If you feel yourself frowning, try to release the muscular tension on your forehead. Throughout the practice your worries or problems may keep appearing. Tell these problems that they will receive your attention after a few minutes, but now you are practising shavasana. Don’t suppress the thoughts if they occur; merely continue to direct your attention to the systematic relaxation of the different parts of the body in the way we have already explained. If you have time repeat the same process again. If you have managed to carry out these instructions in the way described, with awareness, then you should find that you have attained a wonderful relaxed state, physically and mentally.
When you finish the practice, gently move and clench your hands, move your feet and slowly open your eyes.
Awareness and duration
This practice gives maximum benefits if your attention is totally involved in the practice. If you do shavasana without enthusiasm then it will not give the required results. A little mental effort is necessary, but without mental strain. The duration of the practice should suit the time that is available; the longer the better. For normal purposes five or ten minutes is sufficient. Naukasana takes between three and four minutes, so in combination they take little time, especially in relation to the vast benefits that they can give.
Shavasana is ideally practised after naukasana, because while it creates the tension, shavasana releases it. Shavasana can and should be practised whenever you feel tired or tense. It is such a simple practice, yet it can bring wonderful results. It should also be performed after yoga exercises or asanas, and between the practices if you feel a little tired.
Movement and covering
Try not to move your body at all during the practice of shavasana. There is a very good reason for this: even the slightest movement will bring certain muscles into play. As such you are immediately creating muscular contraction, the very thing we are trying to eliminate.
Some people may find it uncomfortable to lie on the floor with only a pillow under their head. In this case pillows may also be placed under the knees, to take up the gap between the floor and the back of the knees, and under the small of the back in the region of the waist. The support of these extra cushions will help you to attain more relaxation. Don’t lie on a soft bed or mattress as this will not allow you to distinguish whether you are relaxing the muscles or not. If the atmosphere is cold or if there are any small insects in the air, cover yourself with a large sheet or blanket. But the covering should not be too heavy.
Basically shavasana relaxes the whole physiological-psychological system. A relaxed mind allows you to see and relate to the world and the people around you in a more realistic light, carry out your work more smoothly and attain more happiness in life.
A tense mind automatically implies a tense body. From this combination result the majority of diseases which inflict mankind. Shavasana, by relaxing the mind-body complex, helps to relieve and prevent disease. Its benefits are inestimable. The reader should not believe us when we say how effective this practice is – you should try it and find out for yourself.
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