Intro to relaxation
In yoga when we talk about relaxation, it is not really about lying on the couch watching TV! A 'yogic relaxation' is the process of a conscious unwinding of our senses from the world around us. It’s very easy for us to become entangled in the stress of daily life. From our job and financial concerns, through to keeping a balance with family and social life and even our own self-image and self confidence.
Stress and tension are said to be the main cause of most modern diseases. From high blood pressure and hypertension through to migraines, digestive disorders, asthma and diabetes, they are all impacted by an increase in tension or stress within the body’s systems. We have a natural protection system and relaxation system - this is called the autonomic nervous system. It has two branches - the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The sympathetic nervous system is often called the 'fight-or-flight' response, and it occurs when we perceive that we are under threat, or vulnerable. The heart begins to pump more rapidly, increasing the blood flow around the body in order to increase the oxygen supply to the muscles and brain. We become instantly alert and on guard and we are ready to move quickly away from the threat, or to stand our ground and fight.
This is perfect if you’re on a busy motorway where you need to stay hyper alert of the busy traffic around you, or even on a dark street at night and you’re not sure what’s round the next corner. That ‘stress’ is important because in those situations you need to be alert and ready to respond. However, this state of hyper awareness is only designed to be temporary. For example, in our distant past, the sabre tooth tiger would appear on the scene and you’d fight or run away... But then the threat would then be over, your parasympathetic nervous system would kick in and you would go back to a ’normal’ pace of life.
In our modern lives, we may not have a sabre tooth tiger, but we do have deadlines, traffic, crowds of people, emails that don’t send, printers that won’t work and photocopiers that get jammed! Notice that most of our stress in modern life is NOT physical threat - its mental and emotional stress - but the physical body responds in the same way. This means we are staying in our 'stress response' for up to 98% of the time and that has a HUGE effect on our body and mind.
We HAVE to learn to switch off - and that's where the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in. It supports us by activating our relaxation response - helping us to come back to a place of stillness and balance. We can only do this however, if we consciously let our minds relax - otherwise those stressful thoughts are still running in the background, even if we are physically relaxed and curled up on the sofa.
Coming back to your inner calm and balance is the main purpose of a yogic relaxation. The process is to consciously release tension from the physical, energy, emotional and mental layers of our being and we do this in several stages. Firstly by physically moving and then releasing the muscles. Secondly, working with breath helps to release the energy layer or pranamaya kosha; and thirdly evoking positive emotions and using visualisation starts to release tension from the emotional and mental layers.
I’ve found that you can get the best results if you consciously set an intention before you begin. It could be to increase your energy levels if you’re feeling low or to have vibrant physical health or even to become more calm and peaceful inside. An intention is something that helps you to focus your mind so it can support you in becoming a calmer and more balanced you.