Switching off our busy minds

Yoga is commonly known as good for combating stress.  One of the reasons is that there is a  strong relaxation element in there and most yoga classes end with a ‘relaxation’ where people have time to lie on the mat and feel peaceful.

Recently a couple of incidents started me thinking about what we mean by relaxation and whether yogic relaxation is different to other forms.

Firstly I had an email from someone who had attended a few of my yoga classes  which she had started specifically to help her feel less stressed and anxious.  She had decided, after a few weeks, that yoga wasn’t for her as she was finding it impossible to switch off her thoughts in class and to empty her mind. Secondly, in a conversation with someone else, I was explaining that relaxation is an important element of yoga.  The response was that he was fortunate as he didn’t need to learn to relax as he falls asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow and sleeps deeply for at least 8 hours.

When I looked for a dictionary definition of relaxation, I found ‘Refreshment of body or mind; recreation from work.’ However in yoga, relaxation means to rest deeply and is a state in which there is no movement, no effort and the brain is quiet.

Interestingly this is different to sleep which includes periods of dreaming and which can increase muscular and other  tension and may not make us feel refreshed. How often have we woken up feeling tired?

Relaxation does not come easily to most people, but like anything else can be learned through regular practice and with patience.

The benefits are tremendous.  Research has shown these can include more energy, enhanced immunity, fewer stress related illnesses and complaints such as headaches, other aches and pains and IBS, increased concentration and problem solving abilities, lower blood pressure, more balanced emotions.

Different techniques work best for different people and in yoga there is a wide range to try: e.g. visualisations, breathing techniques, body scanning, progressive muscle relaxation and a technique called yoga nidra.

Most techniques start with an attention to the body and a letting go of physical tension adopting a comfortable position with whatever props we need (cushion under the head, behind the knees etc) .  It is recognised that we can’t relax the body and mind if we aren’t physically comfortable.

Of course we can’t switch off our busy minds immediately  and we mustn’t expect too much too soon.

However persevering with relaxation is well worth it and finding a technique which works well for us. We will certainly reap the benefits and start to feel healthier and calmer in all sorts of situation.

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring some yogic relaxation techniques.

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