The Body & Mind
Our mind and body’s natural state is in fact, a relaxed one. Busy life styles and our modern society has increased the rhythm of our lives, thus increasing the activity and speed of the mind and body. A conflict arises here, as the state of our mind and the state of our body are ever so closely linked; when the muscles are relaxed, the mind can relax too, and vice versa.
Think about when a negative emotion arises, an emotion is not generally a physical reaction, it is a psychological reaction. Yet, we feel the effect of negative emotions throughout the whole body. Take anxiety for example, anxiety is an extremely powerful emotion. When we are feeling anxious, our muscles become tense, our heart rate increases, the stomach can experience ‘knots’, we can become nauseous and even vomit, legs can feel weak; the list goes on. The physical body suffers on a huge scale when the mind becomes anxious, yet the origin of all ’emotions’ remain in the brain.
When the brain receives signals to react, perhaps to move faster, work harder, meet deadlines, be on-time etc… it then sends signals to the body to contract the muscles via the nerves, signals to ‘GET READY’. This ‘readiness’ sends our physical and mental state into tension.
As a whole, the majority of people struggle to ‘find time’ to relax or rest. The constant cycle and accumulation of tension in the body and the mind, means that we often find ourselves with muscular pain (especially around the upper body), experiencing poor quality sleep, ending up with low immunity and even illness. This unnecessary tension causes us to waste an enormous amount of energy and every-day discomfort. The slow build up of this negative tension not only radiates through our body, it can also cause one to have changeable moods, lack of mental and physical balance, added pressure on relationships and on our working life.
There are many ways to relax the body, perhaps for you it is watching a movie, distracting the mind and resting the body, maybe a hot bath, a slow stroll or listening to music… the important part here, is to actually relax the muscles and your brain, as your brain is responsible for the signal, relaxation begins with the mind. This is where Yoga comes into play.
Relaxation and Yoga
Relaxation is an essential part of Yoga and particularly emphasized in Sivananda yoga, my own discipline. It is fundamental that during yoga practice, time is saved for proper relaxation at the beginning and end of each class, and in between asanas. When we relax between asanas, we give the body time to adjust and reap the benefits of the previous pose. We relax the body either in Corpse pose ( Savasana), Child’s pose (balasana) and Crocodile pose (Makarasana).
Not only is it important to relax the body during yoga practice, but also the mind and spirit too. There are several techniques to do this, and with regular yoga practice you will become more in tune with yourself and eventually able to do this quite naturally without a thought.
Firstly to relax the mind, we take the brain into a meditative state by focusing on our respiration. Time and time again, we hear its importance in every yoga class, and it is particularly important as it leads to us to mental relaxation and meditation. The breath, is the only way in which we are truly present… in the present; we can’t go back a breath nor skip to the next. This mindful breath teaches us awareness, and focusing on it gives a tired brain a rest from processing rapid and stressful thoughts. As we begin to breathe deeply, the body experiences feelings of lightness yet heaviness at the same time, muscular tension fades away, we consume less oxygen as the heart slows down reducing energy loss, a gentle sense of euphoria begins to flow through the body. Just a few minutes of deep relaxation will reduce feelings of anxiety and worry. It can give the sense of having slept a peaceful night.
It is not necessary to practice yoga to relax, but with this powerful information you will have a better understanding of the brain and the body’s response to stress and its response to relaxation. Be sure to find time for yourself, time to slow down your body and to restore your spirit, not only will you benefit from this, but almost all other aspects of your life will too!