Currently, relaxation is not our intrinsic state. Perhaps it was at birth; however, it is obscured by all of our obligations and expectations–my twelve year-old is already being told his math scores, now, may affect his collegiate endeavors… Talk about a catalyst for tension!
However, I subscribe to the idea that our reaction to stress has to do with our perspective. I believe, as do many other renowned professionals, we can make stress our friend. The reality is “relaxation is a skill unto itself” (Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati). What does that mean, relaxation is a skill? Let me elaborate…
…Notice the anxiety planning a vacation can induce, observe the fidgeting of a “restless leg” at dinner, or witness the unconscious clenching of our jaw while lying in bed at night… all times when we are supposedly relaxed. We haven’t been trained to relax, to really let go, to really set down.
One problem is we aren’t really in our bodies; do you feel your fingers pressing on your tablet, do you feel your foot on the gas pedal? We are outside in the world of the senses, stimulation, and flux. Our stress reaction partially comes from being “outside” of our true center which is not subject to change, corruption, and decay.
In this tradition, the physical body is not viewed as something other than the self– it is viewed as a layer that has its origins in the eternal. Therefore, the physical body needn’t be deprived by extreme measures–nor inundated with sensuality. The physical body must become a participant on the inward journey.
Pratyahara, sense withdrawal, is the process of disengaging ourselves from our sensory experience. We move from being outside in our experience to being in our own body. Hence the need to dim he lights and seek a quiet place to relax or meditate. Using music or “white noise” is still stimulation– this is using an extrinsic source to “feel” relaxed. Ultimately, relaxation must come from within.
Postural practice (yoga poses), asana, can assist with getting “in” the body. However, many practitioners feel that this is the apical experience of yoga– it’s only a preliminary one. After asana practice, the body is prepared for profound relaxation– this relaxation is essential to deep, sustained meditation.
Complete Relaxation is a beautiful way to work on entering into this state. It is an approach of moving through the body and not ignoring it. It is a beautiful finale to a postural practice. It can be practiced alone or in preparation to a seated practice. For a beginner, it is a way to increase your time in stillness– while satisfying the need to have a little stimulation.
This seems like a paradox; relaxing to meditate. It isn’t so antithetical– imagine trying to sit and meditate if you’re agitated and distracted. Once you are able to establish a relaxed state, a regular meditation practice reduces this inclination toward a negative stress response.