Relaxation is an art, for there are various practices which one can develop and utilize to bring about relaxation of the mind and body, transforming life into an expression of wellbeing. Relaxation is also a science, for it is based on solid scientific facts.
Relaxation sounds easy – one merely closes the eyes and sleeps. But, in fact, for most people relaxation, deep relaxation, is very difficult. While resting, their minds are in a state of turmoil and their bodies are continually tossing and turning, and the muscles twitching. The biggest obstacle to overcome is for people to actually take active steps to bring about relaxation, to develop and use the various techniques that are available. Because most people cannot relax, in the real sense of the word, they will find that their whole lives will change by just being able to relax. It is such a simple thing, but it can bring wonderful results.
Relaxation is essential in everyone’s life. By relaxation we mean a release of tension in both the mind and body for a period of time to allow complete rest and revitalization. This is the whole reason for sleep, but because of the tension-filled lives that most people now lead in the daytime, sleep no longer performs its functions properly. Many people find that they don’t relax even during sleep – they continue to worry and try to solve their problems. This does not lead to the rest that the body and mind require. People wake up in the morning still exhausted and this state remains throughout the day. It is a vicious circle – for they again go to sleep that same night with the accumulated tensions of the day as well as the exhaustion that has accumulated from numerous nights of insufficient rest during sleep. It is no wonder that when the weekend holidays arrive many people spend much of their time sleeping – they need it. It is for this reason that modern man needs to know systematic techniques which specifically induce relaxation. Sleep is still necessary, but it needs to be supplemented with techniques that quickly and efficiently remove worry and stress.
It seems to be a contradiction, but it is nevertheless true that those persons who can easily relax can do more work, can enjoy life more, need less sleep and tend to have smoother social relationships in all spheres of life. Now you might ask: “What about lazy or lethargic people, they are completely relaxed, yet not working?” Actually this is something different. A lazy person is someone who is either full of so many mental disturbances that he is unable to direct his willpower towards some activity or achievement, or his mental makeup is such that he is reluctant to do anything. This is different from relaxation. A person who can truly relax is able to recuperate mental and physical power and focus it in one direction when required. This is in fact willpower, the ability to direct one’s whole being toward the attainment of one objective without distraction. Relaxation leads to strong willpower. Tension leads to dissipation of energy and attention in all directions.
During yoga classes wonderful changes can be seen in people. Many people walk into class with tension written on every line of their face and on every word they speak. Aggression pervades them. Their bodies are filled with tension, worry and unhappiness. They start practices, not necessarily difficult ones, and slowly but surely the stress and emotional turmoil begins to evaporate. They generally don’t know it, but the yoga teacher can see the transformation on their faces. The students only realize their relaxation at the end of the lesson when they find that they are smiling, really smiling, not superficially, for the first time in days, and that they are actually singing to themselves as they walk down the street. They find that in comparison to before the lesson they are feeling light, carefree and have confidence in themselves. This is not an exception but the rule. These people by the systematic process of relaxation techniques have changed their whole attitude towards themselves, to other people and life in general. This transformation may only last for an hour or so, but it leaves a wonderful impression on the mind, and helps to permanently encourage a more relaxed attitude towards life. It is a starting point from which you can fully begin to enjoy mental and physical relaxation as a normal part of your life, whether during intense activity, sleep or whatever, and not as something that you experience only occasionally, perhaps during yoga practices.
We want your life to be an expression of relaxation and joy. The way is by cultivating the ability to relax under all conditions and at all times. Everything you practise in yoga brings about relaxation and a thorough revitalization of the body and the mind, whether it is by means of asanas, pranayama, meditational practices or whatever. Yet there are some special techniques which are very simple, which specially bring about relaxation in a short period of time. These will be discussed at the end of this topic and at various stages throughout the book.
Mechanics of tension
The root cause of mental and physical tension is faulty thinking in relation to other people and to our surroundings. Our way of thinking does not harmonize with our external environment. This results in conflicts of interest between ourselves and other people. Our internal environment does not match our pattern of existence. In other words we live in the same way that a fish would out of water continually fighting our surroundings instead of merging and flowing with life.
Consider life as a jigsaw puzzle. If each piece of the puzzle fits and is in the right position, then the picture is complete and in balance. But if some pieces don’t fit or if they belong to a different jigsaw puzzle, then there is no unity. It is the same with people in the world: when there is conflict with their outer surroundings, there is disharmony. Generally there are few changes that an individual can make to the external environment, and so the change to bring harmony must come from the internal environment, namely one’s attitude to life and other people. When you peacefully coexist with your surroundings, and no longer separate yourself, then tension is removed: you begin to relax.
The factors that prevent man from fitting in with his surroundings are fear, hatred, dislike and jealousy, etc. These are accumulated since birth and cause a disruptive interaction with others. These remain mainly in the subconscious layers of the mind, but have an enormous influence on our daily life. Let us take a simple example. Perhaps one person is scared of the dark because as a young child he was accidentally locked up in a small, dark cupboard. The resulting fear continues into adulthood, so that now he is always afraid of the dark. Whenever he has to walk in the dark he becomes tense and fearful. This is only one example and perhaps an extreme one. Other people have inferiority complexes, others a fear of heights etc., all because of previous unpleasant experiences. Our minds are full of such fears and complexes, and these are the major cause of tension in our lives.