The state of our mind and our body are interlinked. If your mind is stressed, your body will tense. If your body is relaxed, then your mind is at ease. All of our actions are originated in our mind. Our mind receives a stimulus, alerting it to a need for action. It then sends a message via the nerves to contract the muscles in response. With our busy lives, you can only imagine how your mind is overwhelmed by various stimuli! As a result, we spend our lives in a state of physical and mental tension – even when we are asleep. This transfers to holding that tension in our body, whether it is in your shoulders, neck, jaw, or hips. This tension not only causes discomfort, but puts an enormous drain on our energy and is a major cause of sickness and fatigue.
Learning to relax may seem easy, but is a challenge for many of us. Relaxation is an essential part of the yoga practice, but most people have a hard time shutting their mind down in yoga. That is why Savasana (also known as Corpse Pose) is probably the hardest posture in yoga. In addition to a final Savasana, my yoga classes also incorporate shorter Savasanas in-between asanas (postures). Occasionally I will have a student that has a difficult time staying still or relaxing in these shorter Savasanas. Instead of savoring the moment of relaxation, they will look around the room or fidget. This is understandable. It is easy to think about emails you need to answer, what to make for dinner, or a project deadline. However, to properly relax, you need to consider all three components of relaxation – physical, mental, and spiritual.
While Savasana is difficult to do well, it changes and develops like your yoga practice. Consider these tips the next time you struggle to stay still:
1. When you first lie down, make sure your body is symmetrical in order to provide proper space for all parts to relax.
2. Rotate your legs in and out, letting them fall out to the sides and allowing the hips to open.
3. Rotate your arms in and out, letting them fall out to the sides with the palms up and allowing the shoulders to open.
4. Rotate your spine by turning your head from side to side to center it, while also releasing tension in the head and neck.
5. Start stretching yourself out, feeling as if someone were pulling your head away from your feet, your shoulders down and away from your neck, and your legs down and away from your pelvis.
6. Tensing and relaxing each part of your body from your feet to your head, can also help you feel that you are relaxed.
7. Feel as though gravity is pulling the muscles down towards the mat, allowing your body to melt towards towards the floor.
8. As you breathe, let your abdomen fill with air like a balloon on the inhalation and releasing the air on the exhalation.
In order to relax the mind, concentrate on your breath and breathe steadily. Our active (or superficial mind) is what typically hinders us in Savasana. It is easily stimulated by our five external senses. By concentrating on our breathing, it helps to prevent these distractions. Once you have learned to block out the external environment, you may begin to listen to your internal senses. You will then begin to feel sensations of warmth, expansion, and lightness throughout your body.
Complete relaxation is not complete without spiritual peace. When we continue to identify with our mind and body, there will always be fears, worries, anger, and sorrow. Spiritual relaxation means detaching yourself, becoming a witness of your body and mind. This extends beyond your practice, which means we should learn how not to quickly react to stressful situations.
Relaxation is an ongoing process, learning to let go rather than holding on. When your whole body relaxes, many important physiological changes take place. The activity in your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight” response) decreases while activity in the parasympathetic system increases. The entire system rests as a result of reduction in muscle tension, energy loss, respiration, and pulse rate. Even a few minutes of deep relaxation is more beneficial in reducing worry and fatigue, than many restless hours of sleep!