Yoga and Relaxation – Tony Crisp
Relaxation is an Art – Chapter 3
To be relaxed is a blessed thing. It is reminiscent of a beautiful ship riding easily through the roughest seas. Certainly it is moved by the great waves, certainly it responds sensitively to each wind and current, but at the same time it can choose its course and hold its own against them.
Relaxation is one of the results of successful Yoga. Through it one is enabled to accept the many things, good and bad, that a full life brings. Through it also, one can initiate changes when felt necessary. This is because, through it, one has reached a degree of the unconditional state mentioned. Through it one can drop away many of the things that destroy the harmony of our lives, the things that ruin our relationships with others, or destroy our ability to give of our best. Without any other philosophy, Yoga relaxation can help to find wisdom and understanding in rising to life’s challenges.
When explaining this method of relaxation I have often been asked, “Is there not a danger of losing one’s personality, of becoming too passive and weak a character?” Yet this is a very strange question considering that our follies are committed largely out of momentary passions, desires, fears or ambitions over which we have little control, or unconscious drives which escape our notice. Even the inactivity of the spineless easily led” person, does not arise from passivity of power but from the restrictions of their own inability. It is only the very strong, resilient men or women who can make their own decision whether to act or not. Most of us are moved to act, only to regret it later. Only at a later date may we recognise that it was petty vanity, selfishness or sexual desire, that led us. Even thinking is often regrettable, for we reason from a lack of information rather than full knowledge. From the Yoga point of view, only activity arising from our whole nature will satisfy us and lead to happiness. When any partial system rules, such as our passions and appetites, emotions or reasoning, we will not be wholly satisfied with ourselves.
It is when we become whole in some degree, we enjoy the feeling or experience we call relaxation. So relaxation it not only a practice but something we experience also.
The fact that we call this “Yoga relaxation,” means simply that it is more inclusive in its aims than general relaxation. General relaxation tends to concern itself exclusively with the muscular system, and sometimes the emotions and breathing. Yoga sees these as the expressions of something vaster (our whole nature-The All), the experience of which will atone satisfy us fully. It is interesting to note that Sutherland in his book “Teach Yourself Relaxation,” even says at the end that the deepest stages of relaxation must be studied in religion.
It is not that one necessarily has to study any of the religious tenets; quite the reverse. It is through experiencing the deeper parts of our nature in the practice of relaxation, that we begin to understand the stark practicality of most religions. Without the experience of ourselves that such practices bring, religion (not churches) may remain so far outside our understanding as to be meaningless. The great religious teachers, after all, were attempting to explain a vital experience they had received. An experience that they considered could revolutionise a person’s life by giving a full sense of satisfaction and the ability to meet life face to face in all it could deal. That religions have been turned into dry words, or organisations incapable of passing on the original experience, does not deny this. It merely shows how difficult to understand, to circumscribe and to explain, the unconditional state it. in fact, study shows that few religions have succeeded in passing on the experience to more than a handful, Perhaps Zen has succeeded more than most because it realises that as the experience is “unconditioned” it does not conform to any particular dogmas, creeds or circumstances. Also that it either rises in one spontaneously, or needs the calling forth by one who has achieved it.
This gives only a very poor idea of the difficulties in finding ourselves fully. At least there are other more immediate benefits to be derived in that we may be released from unwanted tension; be given great freedom from feelings of self-consciousness, loneliness, fear and depression; may derive more benefit from our periods of rest and have greater ability to concentrate.
Before we even begin an explanation of the method however, it is as well to know a little of what confronts us. In the first place, learning relaxation is not any easier than learning other things – musical instrument for instance. It demands our attention, our time, our devotion. To attain something in this realm may take as many years as it does to become a doctor or an artist. At the same time a little practice, while it may not take us to dizzy heights, will give us enough facility to aid us through difficulties. In learning to ride a bicycle, we may never win races, but at least we ran get about.
Taking the analogy of the bicycle further; while learning there is the danger that we may fall off. For the first time we may discover how frightened we are of hurting ourselves and how little control we have over our bodies. We usually continue in the face of these difficulties however, because we see that other people have succeeded in spite of them. Some people begin their practice of relaxation (or meditation) believing that there are no difficulties ahead.
Through the popular expositions of meditation some of the public believe that heaven lies just around the corner. This is in a sense true but there are a lot of pitfalls and obstacles in the way. The salesmen often fail to mention these. It is only through thoroughly honest teachers like Bunyan, who mentions the Slough of Despond (despondency and laziness) and Worldly Wiseman (reasoning that really has its base in prejudices, ignorance and fears), that we learn of the difficulties we face.
In learning to experience relaxation in our life, we will undoubtedly come face to face with those parts of our nature that are the things holding us back from relaxation. I ought to explain here that as far as Yoga is concerned, relaxation or the unconditional state, is primal to our whole existence. This has to he taken on trust until one experiences it for oneself. Underlying all our experience, sense impressions, emotions, thoughts and drives, is what the Yoga masters have called Sat-Chit-Ananda: Being-Consciousness-Bliss. That is, an awareness of being in unconditioned bliss. At the very least, we can easily experience that a more relaxed state underlies all our activity and motion of thought and feeling.
In facing those pans of us that hold us from a fuller experience of Satchitananda, we, as it were, experience them very consciously, During our early years we may have felt bitterness that we were not born into better circumstances, with better opportunities for education, fulfilment and affection. This feeling of bitterness about our circumstance may have become so much a part of our nature that we are unaware of it. We can also be quite unconscious of how this underlying attitude colours our life, alters our relationship with others, and shapes our fate. Of course it may not be bitterness, it could be insecurity, fear of failure, sexual difficulties, feelings of inferiority, or one of the host of other things that we take to ourselves like parasites. Or it could be a number of them in any combination. In attempting to go beyond them, or become unconditioned from them, we experience something like gravity, In other words, gravity is almost unnoticeable until we try to resist it. Even jumping is a tremendous effort. While thrusting up and away in a space ship causes great stress and drag, leading even to unconsciousness. To thrust against this force one must take special precautions. Yet if one ran succeed, then one can achieve weightlessness and a new view of the universe. Therefore, we must expect the negative parts of our nature to come up and hit us. We will experience them in all their power instead of hardly being aware of them. The harder we push against them, the stronger they will seem, for in this practice one usually appears to get worse before one gets better. Sometimes such feelings will arise during the practice itself, and the definite link be seen. But more often they will seem like a thing quite separate, and we will doubt the efficacy of the practice itself.
We must press on with the practice of relaxation as best we can, and not succumb entirely to the experience of our hopelessness, bitterness, or whatever it is. Sometimes this may prove quite impossible because of the strength of our feelings. `Then we must try, even if only occasionally to think, “This is a healing process. I am seeing my unconscious moods, my karma, coming to the surface. It is enough to recognise this and press on, until it has all come out of me.” Even this may be difficult due to feeling that what we are experiencing is reality and our deepest self, not just something that will pass. How long this goes on depends upon how much karma (the inbuilt results of all our past emotions, thoughts and actions) we have to work out. Also, on how we handle the situation.
Neither Supression or Inertia
There is, of course, a temptation to push back into unconsciousness all that we are releasing, or at the other extreme we may be overwhelmed by it. The ideal is neither to suppress, nor be swept away, but to watch with as much equilibrium as we can. Neither should this equilibrium be of the stoic, forced type, but arising from the practice. Remembering the principles of the method itself is its own safeguard.
Do not think that one’s Karma is not faced unless pressed against in this manner. Whatever one does, one faces self. The practice of Yoga, or other similar disciplines, merely speeds up the process, aiming to bring it to a healing climax. In this climax, many possibilities will become apparent, but to reach the goal we must say to ourselves over and over, “This is not It. This is not It,” until at last in truth we can say, `This is It!”
As for the actual methods of relaxation. I will explain one of the simplest and most profound of the methods in this chapter, and in the following chapters, explain some of the other Yoga methods. As all such methods, if only in experience, are progressive, we will start from the beginning. For until we have learnt to recognise the various unnecessary tensions within us, we will be unable to drop them at will.
In practising relaxation, we have to recognise that tension is as necessary to life in the body, as relaxation is. The heart tenses, then completely relaxes, our chest does likewise in healthy breathing. Even our waking and sleeping express this rhythm of action and rest, consciousness and unconsciousness, energy and inertia, Life is a balance of opposites, a marriage of them, or even a contest. Birth and death are the major poles with these smaller opposites of our life in between. Relaxation is she balance and because of this, during our practice we will notice a balancing of our personality also. The dry intellectual will find himself becoming more intuitive, more emotional, more religious and irrational. The irrational, emotional type will find a more intellectual, reasoning nature coming to the fore.
The Practice of Relaxation
Similarly our whole nature responds. So to begin our practice we must learn to recognise tension and relaxation throughout our being. Let us begin then with a primary exercise in this direction. Either lie on a carpeted floor out of draughts (under a blanket if necessary, as it is less distracting to keep reasonably warm), or sit in a straight backed chair, with the hips well back. Do not sag in the chair but be erect. Practice will make this easy and yet comfortable.
Having found a place where you will not be disturbed for half an hour, and having settled yourself, loosen all tight clothing. Collars, belts, under garments, should all be loose, shoes removed so the body is unrestricted. Sit for a few moments letting the thoughts and activities that have occupied you die down. Resolve firmly to keep your attention wholly on the practice during the allotted time, no matter what the distraction. Then wait patiently for the feeling of readiness to begin to grow in you, and urge you to commence. Should other opposite feelings arise, put them aside again and again, until that pleasant desire to go on into relaxation arrives. Think of it as a friend you are waiting for, or the right moment. To force oneself into the practice without this friend, usually results in a great expenditure of nervous energy without any reward. Wait then, for the spontaneous desire to begin, even if it takes a week, or a month, for even this is leading you deeper into relaxation. Do not forget that you are waiting, and what for.
When that feeling arrives, bring your attention to your legs. Tense the muscles in the legs as hard as you can without discomfort or cramp. If you find this difficult, press your legs together, or against the floor, to produce the tenseness in the muscles. Hold the tension for a moment, watching the sensation it produces, then slowly let go of the tension. Allow the sensations in the legs to sink to the other extreme. While the legs are tense, there is a feeling of effort and rigidity. Now let those feelings be replaced by effortlessness and limpness.
When the effortlessness and limpness become distinct, tense the legs again, but this time not quite to hard. Hold it, noticing the feelings, then slowly drop again to the other extreme. As you do so, notice the feeling of dropping-that feeling of tension slipping away. Go through this about seven to ten times, tensing less each time. At the end there should be only the feeling of tension, and the feeling of relaxation. For a few times, hardly moving the muscles, let this feeling of tension and relaxation alternate. Then in turn, go through the whole process again with the hips and waist, chest, arms, neck, head and face.
Once you have reached the head, start again at the legs. This time however, instead of tensing the muscles, merely become aware of each part in turn, dropping away any tension that remains. In this way, become aware of the foot end its sensations of weight, shape, clothing, and tension. Then allow the feeling of dropping to take place. Thus go all over the body, time and time again, until your allotted time has elapsed.
For the best results, practise at least once, or if you have time, twice each day. Give yourself at least a month of practice before either passing onto the next method or stopping. After a month you should find that a fine degree of recognition of the state of tension exists. At this time you may not have noticed any of the results mentioned already, but you will almost certainly have noticed certain other things like the great restlessness of our thoughts and feelings. Inability to hold the attention to any one subject may also tempt you into believing you are inadequate to the task. This is not so. You may never before have trained the attention to hold steady, but with practice it will improve. Usually you also begin to notice during this time, just how tense you are, The tension of the aims end shoulders while driving may be noticed for the first time, or else how stiffly we hold ourselves while sitting or meeting strangers. Do not be dismayed. Slowly these tensions can be dropped away until we are free of them.
Practising the asanas will help in this regard, but the relaxation methods by themselves will be adequate unless the tensions are very deep seated. Also certain inner experiences may have occurred. You may have already had a glimpse of the wonderful living peace of relaxation. When it comes it is unmistakable. It is more thrilling even than one’s first passionate kiss; as moving as a sudden glimpse into the depths of the universe, but how can one describe it?
The Experience of Relaxation
For different people the experience comes in different ways. Some feel as if they are falling into a vast and utter blackness – a vivid sparkling blackness darker than anything ever seen before. As one falls there is the sensation of losing all shape and bodily form, of becoming enormous.
Some people become quite frightened, fearing that they are dying, or will not come back, for there is the very real feeling of slipping into a strange new world. Many take this in their stride however, and feel great joy and release in the experience, wishing to do it again and again. Others do not see the darkness, but see a dawning light into which they merge, and again lose feelings of shape and form. With some, the ecstasy is so much that the bliss shows on their face like sunlight and radiance.
Some find themselves floating and relaxed, warm and strange, while a few find that the long held feelings of grief and misery break out, now the defences have been relaxed, and tears and sobbing shake the body. In these cases, if at all possible, the tears should be allowed to flow, until one has released them all, and is free. Although with some this takes a long time and is best done with a therapist of some sort. I mention the therapist only because some people are afraid of theft own grief, and need a helping hand.
In most cases however, learning relaxation will be like climbing a mountain. Sometimes the views are wonderful, and an elevated view of the world is gained, but it is hard work. Paradoxically, the hard work is in learning to do nothing, to give up effort and be still. Once there, there is no effort attached to it at all, but getting there often requires all we have. Even if we have experienced the liberation of deep relaxation, it is in virtually every case, only a glimpse. We experience it while our being is temporarily quiescent through practice of a particular discipline. While we are no longer practising the discipline, the influence of the experience is largely lost. Only a fragrance of it remains. In other words, in everyday life we may still be nervous, irritable, thoughtless or insecure. While experiencing deep relaxation it will seem as if we have risen above all the causes of these things within us. For a time they no longer exist for us, but in “climbing down” to earth or our usual self again, they disappear. Yet the vision of what we have seen remains in our memory, and we know at least, that it is possible to exist in a different way.
Deep relaxation, if experienced only the once, will still have subtly changed us in many ways. Of course, we can attempt to totally forget or distort it. In many ways, however, we can never be quite the same. We have seen for ourselves that our consciousness can exist radiantly clear and joyous beyond the bounds of the body and its senses. We have seen also that many of the things in life to which we attach so much importance, can be seen from a totally different viewpoint. To an outside observer we may appear to be as we always have been, even to ourselves we may seem unchanged. Every strong experience however, changes us slightly.
Not until we have had the experience of deep relaxation do we really know what we are searching for. Even afterwards we will not properly understand or appreciate until much more of life teaches us its value. If we continue our practice, however, the task before us is one of widening the trail we have made until it is a road. It lies in making an everyday fact of this unusual experience. The experience is an exciting thing, but it is only when we can make real in our everyday life the things we have seen in our vision, that they become transforming realities.
We must accept as valid and real the things we glimpse. Imagine that one’s conscious self is one’s point of experiencing life. It can experience only one thing at a time, and is much influenced by the situation of the moment. Think of the part of ourselves seen in relaxation
(that is deep relaxation when we have gone beyond the point of reacting to our fears and pains) as being the sum total of all our experience. It is also the source of our emotions and instinct and is in contact with the controlling factors of our being. We must therefore think of it as expressing a more essential or total expression of ourselves than is usually possible by our conscious sell. To be guided by it (not controlled) is a means of finding a more complete satisfaction. For this reason our intuition should be carefully consulted. In following the outworking of our karma through the practice of Yoga there can be no surer guide than our own intuition.
The Second Method
Having practised the preceding method of relaxation for some time, it may be found helpful to pats on to the method about to be explained. The method that follows is an extension of the last, and cannot properly be practised unless the other has been already used. It consists of very quickly passing the attention over the body, without the preliminaries of tensing and relaxing. Do this lying or sitting as before. The aim of this is to drop any obvious muscular tensions still in the body. Then, when one has reached the head, keep the attention there. Concentrate on the forehead, wrinkling the brow as much as possible but instead of making this simply a physical tension, make it an emotional one also.
This it quite easy to do when properly understood. We are doing it all day in fact, just as we are all day tensing muscularly. We find, however, that muscular tension is nearly always the follower of emotional tension. Thus, if we have not dropped our emotional tensions, we have not been able to drop our deepest physical tensions. The large muscle groups of the body may be quite limp while a nervous or emotional tension still exists so that the viscera, heart, arteries and vital organs will be operating under unconscious tension.
Getting back to tensing emotionally however, one uses the wrinkled forehead as a focus. Imagine that it is wrinkled because one is feeling apprehensive. Use any existing worries, (financial, sexual, or social) that one may have to deepen this experience of apprehension. Allow the whole face and body to be influenced by the mood one is conjuring. Then, when it becomes reasonably pronounced, gently drop it away from the face and the whole body, as if it were a muscular tension. Now, using the face and forehead again, express fear in a similar way. It will probably be found that whereas apprehension or worry wrinkles the forehead, fear pulls it tight and smooth, tensing the muscles at the temples hard (and that is one of the causes of headaches in this area).
Again, drop the whole mood and tension gently away into relaxation when it has been experienced, or made conscious. Next, see if you can similarly express anger, and then drop it away. Follow this with expressions of pain, grief, or any of the emotions that are commonly experienced.
When this has been done there may be time left of the allotted period. This should be used by still holding the attention to the face and dropping away any and all emotions expressed on it. Some emotions are so much with us that they have become graven upon our face and body. This is like an emotional dirt that has become grimed into our form. Whereas `we usually wash ourselves daily to clean away physical dirt (or even several times a day on exposed areas) we seldom cleanse this inner grime of fears and feelings. Here is one of the practical issues underlying the origins of daily washing and daily praying. It makes us clean again, and puts us in harmony with the sources of our life.
Relaxing the Emotions as Well as The Body
Once one feels more at home with this method, and begins to appreciate its aims and results, a slightly more ambitious programme can be attempted. After the preliminaries of dropping obvious physical and emotional tensions, ask yourself whether you are still harbouring resentments. Are you, in fact, at peace with the world, in the sense of forgiveness? Also, what pains in our life are still with us unresolved. Are we still suffering deep within us the insecurity of an early loneliness, the terror of a medical operation, the guilt of a taboo desire? Resolve to suffer these hidden pains, that they may be surfaced and after practising these methods of relaxation or Yoga, and noting the results, certain principles will be seen. One of the most significant being that relaxation is the absence of personal effort. One might even call it the absence of ego.
Thus, it must be constantly remembered that one does not try to relax – that would be a contradiction. All the methods aim at gradually relinquishing efforts arising from the ego, such as muscular, emotional or mental tensions. The act of relinquishing the ego, even for a few moments, requires a very precise positioning of all one’s desires, instincts, habits, drives, fears and ideas, The truth of this will be seen by anyone who attempts it. Therefore, many of the Yoga methods aim, not at giving us the experience of unconditional existence, but at putting us in the right internal position to receive it. All things being right, when one opens one’s eyes, one cannot help but see. So also when one has the right stage of being – egolessness – one cannot help but experience the unconditional.
It is helpful to hold this in mind when hoping to experience the deepest stages of relaxation or Yoga. Relaxation is the absence of personal effort. Yoga is conscious union with the unconditional. To find this union “ego efforts” have to be dropped. `Therefore we cannot make efforts of the ego to find it. This means that we have to give up our personal effort or desire to find it, in order to find it. This is because such efforts and desires arise from our ego, which has to be relinquished to experience the unconditional, for the unconditional always exists as the deepest strata of our being.
However, do not worry if such words are beyond present understanding. The benefits of using the methods are so great, that it is folly to give them up because we do not understand how they occur. This would be like giving up breathing because we do not understand a scientist’s explanation of how the air is used by our body.
The next method is again an extension of the previous ones. Likewise, it should only be practised after their use. It is a further stage in dropping those things in us preventing realisation of relaxation.
As before, pass the attention quickly over the body dropping obvious tensions. Then bring the attention to the hips and abdomen. Now realise that in this general area we focus our passions and physical hunger. The yearning for food and sexual pleasure are felt most keenly here.
Call to mind any difficulties one has with this area of one’s feelings. Do not attempt to decide the wrongness or rightness of such feelings. No attempt is being made to decide what is proper or improper. Merely call to mind as clearly as possible one’s sexual and physical hungers, in whatever way they express, then drop them as if they were muscular tensions.
Bring the attention next to the chest and throat generally. This area of our body we can take as representing our feelings. By this is meant the way we feel about our job, our situation in life, our capabilities, friends and enemies, parents, health and so on. `Think of all these as a great bundle of feelings, and again let go as if they were muscular tensions.
Once more, no attempt is made to decide whether or not one it justified in feeling such, or whether right or wrong. In fact the right and wrong, pleasurable and painful, are all dropped, together. Neither should any feeling be thrust aside or pushed down out of consciousness as if being fought off. This is decidedly against the aims of this practice and such methods will not result in relaxation. They may produce a mental or emotional silence, but certainly not a peace of mind or experience of Yoga (union). One cannot push tensions away, physical or emotional. The effort to push them away only produces a further tension.
It can only be done by a letting go. If a tension remains after one has let go of one’s effort to maintain it, it is only because there is good reason or cause for it. In our practice, as already explained, first the emotion, then the cause, come to consciousness. Once the cause is realised in this way, the motion naturally ceases, whether it is restlessness, constant desire to eat, fearfulness, or irritability. To stifle such feelings is like stifling our natural warning system of pain, or muffling a fire bell.
After the chest, bring the attention to the head. This part of our body we can associate with our ideas, our thoughts, our opinions about things, our reasoning. Bring to consciousness some of one’s opinions about oneself, about life, and so on. Bring up one’s religious beliefs or lack of them, examine thoughts about ambitions, then let go of them as if they were muscular tensions. Drop them alt away, good or bad, true or false.
Now we come to the climax of the whole of these series or practices-the full-blooded launching into the unconditional. Remember that the ego, or self-awareness is the result of many factors. To think of it as us in the most permanent sense is an illusion. The light from an electric bulb is the result of the electricity interacting with the bulb. The light can disappear if switched off or the bulb damaged. Similarly, from the Yogic viewpoint, our awareness of self is the result of the biological interaction of matter and energy, life and our body. Just as light is invisible and colourless until it touches a material surface, so is this energy, or life, unmanifest until it acts upon a body. When we look within us, we usually see only the results of life interacting with the body through consciousness of feeling, hearing, tasting, smelling, seeing, knowing and emotions etc. The Yoga doctrines say that life is like a mirror, in its interaction with the body it reflects all the impressions of our senses. Thus, when we look into the mirror, we see only the reflections of our experiences, not the mirror itself. But in gradually dropping away all the images, the results, we are left with only the mirror, we come to know what IS – the basis of our being and all life. Life itself.
Of course this is easier said than done, but any step towards awareness of this, is a step towards wholeness. Therefore, having dropped passions, emotions and thoughts as well us you can, look inwards at what is going on. Then look beyond the remaining thoughts and feelings, asking yourself, “What is it that is aware of these thoughts and feelings?”
Restlessness is only in one’s thoughts and emotions. If one looks, there is always that which is non-active yet gives rise to all our activity. Look into the mirror of self, as it were, and look past the images to shining invisible Self. Or as the Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God