“Deep relaxation is a state where there is no movement, no effort & the brain is quiet”
There is no point starting a meditation practice unless you are able to get your body into a relaxed state. That was the statement Dr Ian Gawler shared at an (excellent) one day workshop I attended on meditation.
Dr Ian Gawler (a 30 year cancer survivor and well known promoter of meditation as a healing tool) explained that a daily muscle relaxation ritual, is the perfect stepping stone for settling and preparing a restless mind, and restless body for meditation.
Or as B.K.S Iyengar (leading world expert on Iyengar yoga) shares in his book Light on Life “Meditation is not going to remove stress. Meditation is only possible when one has already achieved a certain ‘stressless” state. To be stressless, the brain must already be calm and cool. By learning how to relax the brain, one can begin to remove stress”
So perhaps the secret to a rewarding meditation practice is not the style you choose nor how you go about doing it, but more importantly, relaxing the brain (which will relax the body) or relaxing your muscles (which will relax the brain). Master relaxation and you are well on your way to a rewarding meditation practice. Sounds good to me.
Relax your brain:
Following are the wise words by Mr Iyengar from his book Light on Life which shares a few simple ways we can relax our brain in day to day life.
Relaxation means release of unnecessary muscular tension in your body. Focus on relaxing not clenching. This relaxes the brain as well as the body. You must relax the neck and head. Think of your skin. Keep the back skin of your neck passive and the tongue soft, then there is no tension in the brain.
As you learn how to relax the tongue and throat, you know how to relax the brain, because there is a connection between the tongue and the throat and the brain. Do not clench your teeth or else you will be “clenching” your brain. Also know that tenseness of the eyes affects the brain. These things you can notice when sitting in your office working.
Focus on relaxing not clenching and you’ll be relaxing the brain for a rewarding meditation practice.
Relax your muscles:
Dr. Ian Gawler teaches progressive muscle relaxation as a way of preparing for meditation. It follows a simple rhythm of contracting the muscles and then relaxing them, starting with the feet and then moving up through each significant muscles group of the body.
He has used this exercise successively in his cancer programs and retreats for 30 years. Dr. Gawler believes it gives you a direct experience of what tense and relaxed muscles feel like.
There is a detailed progressive muscle relaxation exercise in his book Meditation: An In-Depth Guide (page 90), but in the meantime here’s a brief excerpt which should help.
Take your attention down to your feet …. Really feel what they are like at the moment …. Contract the muscles of the feet …. feeling the difference that makes …. and then let them go …. Feel the muscles softening ….loosening ….releasing …. Simply letting go.
Now, take your attention to your calves …. In your mind move your attention through your calves noticing any sensations that arise ….. if they are warm, cool or neutral …. whether there are any sensations on the skin …. Just noticing ….. like gentle curiosity …. free of reaction ….. Now contract the calf muscles ….. notice the difference that makes …. and let them go …. Feel the muscles …. softening …. loosing …. relaxing …. Simply letting go.
Continue like this to your thighs, stomach, chest, shoulders, arms, jaw, eyes and forehead. The whole exercise should take around 15 – 20 minutes.
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