Lately I have been thinking that we have our traditional yoga classes backwards. We usually spend 40 or 45 minutes doing asanas, breathing exercises, stretching and limbering and then 10 or 15 minutes of relaxation. My practice is the other way around. I stretch and limber for 10 or 15 minutes and then relax for 40 minutes. I am beginning to think that the stretching and limbering we do in yoga is merely there to prime the system and prepare us for where the real benefits are to be derived and that is in relaxation.
Relaxation is completely natural. We see our cats and dogs indulge themselves with periods of rest and relaxation all through the day. Unfortunately modern, urbanized, time bound humans seem to have lost the capacity to just lie back and sink into a conscious state of relaxation. If we lie down at all it is at night when we intend to fall asleep. Perhaps the only place in modern life where relaxation is encouraged and allowed is in a yoga class. And that is only for 10 or 15 minutes. For many of us that is hardly enough.
Thirty or forty minutes would be more like it. The experience of sinking into a real period of relaxation has a certain natural course to run. It might take 5 or 10 minutes just to settle down. We are leaving our usual state of arousal, restlessness, and feeling pressured and begin to explore this other world of stillness, rest and what it means to explore a lower state of arousal, perhaps even a healing state of no arousal. Our arms and legs eventually feel heavy. We become immobilized, almost paralyzed. If the building we are in caught fire we might be able to rouse ourselves to escape, but it would be with great effort and reluctance. We are sinking, heavy, immobile. Our hands and feet may warm and our head grows cooler. Our thoughts slow, quiet, and come close to ceasing. Perhaps we might fall asleep and I know no rules against it. Or else we maintain the lightest of states of consciousness and realize the sweetness and pleasure that can come with deep rest and relaxation. If we are very exhausted the experience may last longer than 30 or 40 minutes, a lot longer, and that is a fear many of us must have. Indulge yourself with rest and relaxation and you fear you will be overwhelmed by it. You fear you’ll never get back to working and normal functioning again. It is mostly a groundless fear. After a half-hour or forty minutes we usually start to come around. We can wiggle our toes and fingers and thoughts of joining the world again come to mind. Yet we realize we have been in a glorious place for maybe almost an hour. What sweet repose it was and who knows what kind of internal adjustments and healing must have taken place. By God it is just what the doctor would order for most of us if he knew about such things himself and practiced them, which he doesn’t.
Sometimes a comfortable recliner can be the best place to practice conscious relaxation.