Normally the body’s muscles are supplied with a continuous weak influx of nerve impulses from the brain. This is known as muscular tone and maintains the muscles in a healthy and prepared condition for instant action if required.
Every psycho-physiological disturbance every negative and destructive emotion causes conflict in the brain. This interferes with the normal tonic rhythm of the muscles and keeps them in an abnormally high state of tension This over-activation of the muscles without the corresponding muscular activity results in a continual drain of energy from the body. This is like leaving the car lights on – after some time they drain all the power out of the battery. If you turn the lights off when they are not needed then the energy of the car battery will be conserved. It is the same with the muscles – if you turn off the tension in life then you can conserve your body energy.
Why does this drainage of energy through muscular contraction occur? The reason is simple. When you think something, the body automatically prepares itself to transfer the thought into action. The brain and body are two parts of the same unit; they are not separate. Take an example: after a hard and particularly tense day at work a man returns home, feeling angry and looking for a way to relieve his frustrations. As a result he may become angry with the neighbour’s dog for no apparent reason, but just as he begins to walk towards the dog to kick it, an inner order from the brain centres warns him that the dog will bite. This causes indecision and the muscles remain in a state of tension, ready for action. This kind of emotion, with or without translation into physical action, results in dissipation and wastage of energy. The result is chronic fatigue. For many people these emotional disturbances and their corresponding detrimental physical effects are almost a continuous part of life. People are continually feeling anger, fear, jealousy, etc., which makes them perpetually tense in mind and body and ultimately leads to disease, either physically or mentally or both.
There are further repercussions of this continuous muscular tension. The larger energy demands of the muscles require the circulatory, respiratory systems, etc. to work harder to maintain the higher supply of energy. The body operates in a higher gear. This increased demand on the body processes influences all the muscles controlling the inner organs – intestines, heart, lungs and blood vessels. The organs and the associated muscles are required to work harder and under extreme conditions for protracted lengths of time. This can eventually lead to their partial or total failure and this is when disease manifests itself. Initially the organs might work less efficiently and one’s health will insidiously decline, perhaps so slowly that it cannot be noticed at first. This is inevitable, if one cannot fully relax oneself for some time during the day or night.
There are various other related outcomes of tension. For example, with emotional responses, adrenaline is automatically injected into the bloodstream from the adrenal glands. This subject has been widely discussed. It is an instinctive mechanism which prepares the body for maximum efficiency and readiness during emergencies. The adrenaline causes contraction of the muscles, constriction of blood vessels, increases the heart and respiratory rates, speeds up the thought processes and so on – all the things that are necessary to resist danger. As is to be expected, its continual presence in the bloodstream leads to continuous muscular general body and mental tension. It is impossible to relax with adrenaline being continually pumped into the blood.
This adrenaline response system is absolutely necessary, but only during emergencies. An example would be if a car suddenly and unexpectedly appeared around a blind corner where you were walking. It is the adrenaline which is almost instantly released into the blood, which makes you afraid and jump to the side of the road to avoid injury. But its use is only intended for emergency situations. In the fast modern world of today this emergency response system is abused, for most people view every situation in life as a crisis. They are continually on their guard, angry, fearful, hateful, etc. The adrenaline is pumped into the bloodstream almost as fast as it can be manufactured. How is it possible for them to relax?
There are further repercussions of tension. The whole endocrine system is forced to operate at a high level, to cope with the corresponding high level of body functioning. This eventually leads to organic malfunctioning and inefficiency, which in turn is the cause of many modern ailments – diabetes, sexual sterility, ulcers, strokes and so on.
Digestive ailments are generally caused by tension, whether it is indigestion or stomach ulcers. Tension interferes with the normal digestive functions, which in turn causes the ailment. Added to this is the fact that tension leads to hasty eating habits, which results in insufficient mastication and digestion, which in turn leads to overwork of the digestive organs and their eventual reduction in efficiency.
As a body becomes weaker through tension, it simultaneously becomes less and less able to face the onset of bacterial infection. When a body is strong and healthy, it has a very powerful autotherapeutic strength to resist bacteriological disease. This power is weakened in a body that is unhealthy or tension ridden. The body becomes a target for the onset of disease.
The body is like any other machine, even though it is infinitely more complex. If it is misused or made to work abnormally it starts to develop faults. These are in the form of arthritis, heart trouble, constipation, diabetes, asthma, etc. These ailments are so prevalent today, even children of just a few years of age are starting to manifest disease symptoms.
Removal of most ailments, their prevention, a happy life and a flight into higher consciousness is impossible unless we can start to give our mind-body complex a rest. Easier said than done you might say. Well, to be permanently relaxed we agree takes time and effort. In fact, a very high state of permanent relaxation is a very advanced state of yoga called sahaja samadhi (spontaneous and natural equanimity) which automatically implies higher consciousness. But systematic relaxation for a few minutes when one feels tired can be easily carried out using the methods explained in this book. The tranquillity that you gain will give you a new, more relaxed platform from which to continue your daily life, even if this sense of well-being only lasts for a few hours.
Mechanics of relaxation techniques
How can we relax and learn to do it well? As is often the case, for the answer we have to look towards the animals; or to those humans less disturbed by the tumultuous world, namely our children. When a child sleeps it forgets all problems. When a child sleeps it really sleeps, if it plays then it really plays and when it works it works. There is full intensity in the activity at hand. Adults have the habit of mentally working when they sleep and play, and of sleepwalking when they work. So one basic rule of relaxation is to shut off thoughts on a conscious level about things that you have completed. Don’t dwell or brood over problems. Your subconscious mind actually has great powers to solve problems without any need for the thought processes to be at a conscious level. When you have fed the necessary data into the mind about any particular topic, forget it. The mind will churn out the answer when it is required. Your conscious brooding on the problem in an effort to aid the process does not help. Have more trust in the capabilities of your mind.
Relaxation techniques start by taking your consciousness away from emotionally charged thoughts and directing it to activities that are emotionally neutral such as the awareness of your breath or different parts of your body. It is almost impossible for anyone to remain or to become tense and angry when their attention is directed towards their big toe. In this way, relaxation techniques stop the ceaseless and futile cycle of brooding on problems. Simultaneously the muscles are consciously relaxed. Most people, however, may find this a difficult process. During yoga lessons people are told to relax, and though their bodies remain stiff and tense, they believe that they are fully relaxed. It is only when the teacher lifts their arm upwards, and the arm remains straight instead of being limp, that they realize just how stiff the muscles really were. Relaxation techniques require you to consciously order your muscles to relax. Over a period of time of practice it should become possible. It is absolutely normal with animals to be able to consciously command the muscles to let go. When an animal or child relaxes or sleeps, its muscles sink towards the floor, and where possible assume the same shape as the floor.
This is a good indication that there is no undue muscular tension remaining.
When you immobilize your whole body, as you do in relaxation practices, and systematically relax different parts of the body. what exactly happens? Of course the muscles are relaxed, something they probably very much need to be. Since the muscles are not being used, both the sensory nerves, which send messages from the muscles to the brain and the motor nerves, which send messages of action from the brain to the muscles, cease to function. This cuts off your consciousness of the body. The more you are able to relax and not move the muscles, the less aware of your body you become. You feel light and euphoric because of this disconnection between mind and body. In deeper states of relaxation you will find that your mind seems to be completely detached from your body. This disconnection produces wonderful effects. The muscle cells, nerve cells, organ cells, blood vessels, etc. become totally relaxed and in this way are revitalized. And of course regions of the brain are given much needed rest from the continual influx of sensory data from the body and the outside world. Further, awareness of different parts of the body or the breath coaxes the mind away from normal patterns of worry of discontent. This has a wonderful calming influence on the mind. The amount of benefits gained from relaxation techniques is in direct proportion to the degree of mental awareness on the practice in hand. If you are not aware of the mechanics of the practice then you will gain little or no results. But if you remain aware throughout the practice, then a few minutes relaxation in this way can be worth more, and be more refreshing than many hours sleep.
Many ailments are caused by inhibitions imposed on the body functions by the higher brain centres. By disconnecting your awareness from your body, the lower brain centres are allowed to carry out their duties without hindrance from the higher brain centres. The lower brain centres then start to restore equilibrium in the muscle body tone and endocrinal system. Further, your awareness on different parts of the body, or whatever, as prescribed by the practice, removes stress and fear. As such the adrenal glands stop injecting adrenaline into the blood system. This brings the body down to a lower level of activity. The whole body is allowed to rest from its continual stimulation.
All the previously mentioned factors interrelate with each other. A reduction in thoughts and worries reduces the adrenaline level in the blood. The reduction of adrenaline in the blood reduces the intensity of emotional and mental conflicts and so on. The overall result must be experienced to be believed: an indescribable feeling of freedom from mental turmoil. You must try it for yourself.