Thoughts take form in action, and actions react upon the mind. These two truths stand together. One is as true as the other. We have heard much of the influence of the mind over the body, but we must not forget that the body, or its attitudes and positions, react upon the mind and influence mental states. We must remember these two truths in considering the question of relaxation.
Much of the harmful and foolish practices and habits of muscular contraction are caused by mental states taking form in physical action. And, on the other hand, many of our mental states have been produced Or encouraged by habits of physical carelessness, etc. When we are angry the emotion is apt to manifest in our clenching the fist. And, on the other hand, if we cultivate the habit of clenching the fists, frowning, drawing together the lips and assuming a scowl, we will be very apt to get the mind into such a condition that the least thing will plunge it into a spell of anger. You all know of the experiment of forcing a smile to the lips and eyes and maintaining it for a while, which generally results in making you feel “smiling” after a few minutes.
One of the first steps toward preventing the harmful practices of muscular contraction, with its resulting waste of prana and wearing out of the nerves, is to cultivate a mental attitude of calm and repose. This may be done, but it will be hard work at first; but you will be well repaid for your trouble in the end. Mental poise and repose may be brought about by the eradication of Worry and Anger. Of Course, Fear really underlies both Worry and Anger, but as we are perhaps more familiar with the idea of Worry and Anger as being elementary mental states, we will so treat them. The Yogi trains himself from youth to eradicate or inhibit both of these emotions, and the result is that after he has developed his full powers he is absolutely serene and calm and presents the appearance of power and strength. He creates the same impression that is conveyed by the mountain, the sea, or other manifestations of restrained force. One in his presence feels that here is indeed great strength and power in perfect repose. The Yogi considers Anger an unworthy emotion, natural in the lower animals and in savage man but totally out of place in the developed man. He considers it a sort of temporary insanity and pities the man who loses his self-control sufficiently to fly into a rage. He knows that nothing is accomplished by it, and that it is a useless waste of energy and a positive injury to the brain and nervous system, besides being a weakening element in one’s moral nature and spiritual growth. This does not mean that the Yogi is a timid creature without any “backbone.” On the contrary, he does not know the existence of Fear, and his calmness is instinctively felt to be the indication of strength, not weakness. Have you ever noticed that the men of the greatest strength are almost invariably free from bluster and threats; they leave that for those who are weak and wish to be thought strong. The Yogi also has eradicated Worry from his mental condition. He has learned to know that it is a foolish waste of energy, which results in no good and always works harm. He believes in earnest thought when problems have to be solved, obstacles surmounted, but he never descends to Worry. He regards Worry as waste energy and motion, and also as being unworthy of a developed man. He knows his own nature and powers too well to allow himself to worry. He has gradually emancipated himself from its curse and teaches his students that the freeing of oneself from Anger and Worry is the first step in practical Yoga.
While the controlling of the unworthy emotions of the lower nature really form a part of other branches of the Yogi philosophy, it has a direct bearing upon the question of Relaxation, inasmuch as it is a fact that one habitually free from Anger and Worry is correspondingly free from the principal causes of involuntary muscular contraction and nerve-waste. The man possessed by Anger has muscles on the strain from chronic involuntary impulses from the brain. The man who is wrapped in the folds of Worry is constantly in a state of nervous strain and muscular contraction. So it will readily be seen that when one cuts himself loose from these weakening emotions he at the same time frees himself from the greater part of the muscular contraction, of which we have spoken. If you would be free from this great source of waste, manage to get rid of the emotions causing it.
And, on the other hand, the practice of relaxingâ€”of avoiding the tense condition of the muscles, in everyday lifeâ€”will react upon the mind, and will enable it to regain its normal poise and repose. It is a rule that works both ways.
One of the first lessons in physical relaxation the Hatha Yogis give to their pupils is given in the next paragraph. Before beginning, however, we wish to impress upon the mind of the student the keynote of the Yogi practice of Relaxation. It consists of two words: “LET GO.” If you master the meaning of these two words and are able to put them into practice you have grasped the secret of the Yogi theory and practice of Relaxation.
The following is a favorite Yogi exercise in Relaxation: Lie down flat on the back. Relax as thoroughly as you can, letting go of all the muscles. Then, still relaxed, let your mind wander over the body from the head down to the toes. In doing this you will find that here and there are certain muscles still in a tense condition-let go of them. If you do this thoroughly (yon will improve by practice) you will end by having every muscle in the body fully relaxed and the nerves at rest. Take a few deep breaths, lying quietly and fully relaxed. You may vary this exercise by gently rolling over to one side, and again relaxing completely. Then roll over to the other side and relax completely. This is not as easy as it appears at first reaching, as you will realize from a few trials. But do not he discouraged. Try it again until you master the “knack.” While lying relaxed carry in your mind that you are lying on a soft, downy couch and that your body and limbs are as heavy as lead. Repeat the words several times, slowly: “Heavy as lead, heavy as lead,” at the same time lifting the arms and then withdrawing the prana from them by ceasing to contract the muscles, and allowing them to drop of their own weight to the sides. This is a hard thing for most persons to do at first trial. They are unable to let their arms drop of their own weight, so firmly has the habit of involuntary muscular contraction fastened itself upon them. After you have mastered the arms try the legs, one at a time, then both together. Let them drop of their own weight and remain perfectly relaxed. Rest between trials and do not be strenuous in the exercise, as the idea is to rest yourself, as well as to acquire the control over the muscles. Then lift the head and allow it to drop in the same way. Then lie still and form the mental image of the couch, or floor, bearing the entire weight of the body. You may laugh at this idea, believing that when you lie down you always let the couch bear all of your weight, but you are mistaken. You will find that, in spite of yourself, you are endeavoring to support a part of your weight by tensing some of the muscles-you are trying to hold yourself up. Stop this and let the couch attend’ to this work for you. You are as foolish as was the old woman who sat on the edge of the car-seat and tried to help the train along. Take the sleeping child for your model. It allows its entire weight to rest on the bed. If you doubt this look at the bed upon which a child has been sleeping and see the “dents” in it-the impress of its little body. If you find it difficult to catch the knack of this complete relaxation it may help you to carry the mental image of being as “limp” as a wet clothâ€”limp all over from head to footâ€”lying loose and limp, without a trace of stiffness. A little practice will soon work wonders with you, and you will arise from this “resting exercise” much refreshed and feeling able to do your work well.
There are also a number of other exercises in Relaxation taught and practiced by the Hatha Yogis, the following being among the best of what are known to the Yogis by the term (free translation) “Loosen-up exercises:
A Few “Loosen-Up” Exercies.
(1) Withdraw all prana from the hand, letting the muscles relax so that the hand will swing loosely from the wrist, apparently lifeless. Shake it backward and forwards from the wrist. Then try the other hand the same way. Then both hands together. A little practice will give you the correct idea.
(2) This is more difficult than the first exercise. It consists in making the fingers limp and relaxed and swinging them loosely from the knuckles. Try first one hand and then the other, then both.
(3) Withdraw all prana from the arms and let them hang limp and loose by the sides. Then swing the body from side to side, letting the arms swing (like empty coat-sleeves) from the motion of the body, making no effort of the arms themselves. First one arm and then the other, and then both. This exercise may be varied by twisting the body around in various ways, letting the arms swing loose. You will get the idea if you will think of loose coat-sleeves.
(4) Relax the forearm, letting it swing loose from the elbow. Impart a motion from the upper-arm, but avoid contracting the muscles of the forearm. Shake the forearm around limp and loose. First one arm, then the other, then both.
(5) Let the foot be completely relaxed and swung loose from the ankle. This will require some little practice, as the muscles moving the foot are generally in a more or less contracted condition. But baby’s foot is loose enough when he is not using it. First one foot, then the other.
(6) Relax the leg, withdrawing all prana from it and letting it swing loose and limp from the knee. Then swing it and shake it. First one leg and then the other.
(7) Stand on a cushion, stool or large book and let one leg swing loose and limp from the thigh, after having relaxed it completely. First one leg and then the other.
(8) Raise the arms straight above the head, and then, withdrawing all prana from them, let them drop of their own weight to the sides.
(9) Lift the knee up in front as high as you can and then draw all prana from it and let it drop back of its own weight.
(10) Relax the head, letting it drop forward, and then swing it about by the motion of the body. Then, sitting back in a chair, relax it and let it drop backward. It will, of course, drop in any direction the moment you withdraw the prana from it. To get the right idea, think of a person falling asleep, who, the moment sleep overpowers him, relaxes and stops contracting the muscles of the neck, allowing the head to drop forward.
(11) Relax the muscles of the shoulders and chest, allowing the upper part of the chest to fall forward loose and limp.
(12) Sit in a chair and relax the muscles of the waist, which will allow the upper part of the body to pitch forward like that of a child who falls asleep in its chair and gradually falls out.
(13) One who has mastered these exercises so far may, if he sees fit, relax his whole body, commencing with the neck, until he gets down to the knees, when he will drop gently to the floor “all in a heap.” This is a valuable acquirement, as in case of one slipping or falling by accident. The practice of this entire body relaxation will do much to protect them from injury. You will notice that a young child will relax in this way when it falls, and is scarcely affected by severe falls which would seriously bruise adults, or even break their limbs. The same phenomenon may be noticed in the cases of intoxicated persons who have lost control of the muscles and are in an almost complete state of relaxation. When they fall they come down “all in a heap” and suffer comparatively little injury.
In practicing these exercises repeat each of them several times and then pass on to the next one. These exercises may be almost indefinitely extended and varied, according to the ingenuity and power of invention of the student. Make your own exercises, if you will, using the above as suggestions.
Practicing relaxation exercises, gives one a consciousness of self-control and repose, which is valuable. Strength in repose is the idea to be carried in the mind when thinking of the Yogi Relaxation theories. It is useful in quieting overwrought nerves; is an antidote for what is known as “muscle-bound” conditions resulting from the employment of certain sets of muscles in one’s daily work or exercise, and is a valuable acquirement in the direction of allowing one to rest himself at will and to thus regain his vitality in the shortest possible time. The Oriental people understand the science of relaxation and employ it in their daily life.
They will undertake journeys which would frighten a Western man, and after traveling many miles will make a resting place, upon which they will throw themselves down, relaxing every muscle and withdrawing the prana from all the voluntary muscles, allowing themselves to remain limp and apparently lifeless from head to foot. They indulge in a doze at the same time, if practicable, but if not they remain wide awake, with senses active and alert, but with the bodily muscles as above stated. One hour of this rest refreshes them as much, or more, than a night’s sleep does the average man. They start on their journey again, refreshed and with new life and energy. Nearly all the wandering races and tribes have acquired this knowledge. It seems to have been intuitively acquired by the American Indian, the Arab, the savage tribes of Africa, and, in fact, races in all parts of the world. Civilized man has allowed this gift to lapse, because he has ceased to make the long journeys on foot, but it would be well for him to regain this lost knowledge and to use same to relieve the fatigue and nerve-exhaustion of the strenuous business life, which has taken the place of the old wandering life, with all its hardships.
“Stretching” is another method of resting employed by the Yogis. At first sight this will seem to be the reverse of relaxation, but it is really akin to it, inasmuch as it withdraws the tension from the muscles which have been habitually contracted, and sends the prana through them to all parts of the system, equalizing pranic conditions to the benefit of all the parts of the body. Nature impels us to yawn and stretch when we are fatigued. Let us take a lesson from her book. Let us learn to stretch at will as well as inv6luntarily. This is not so easy as you may imagine and you will have to practice somewhat before you get the full benefit from it.
Take up the Relaxation exercises in the order in which they are given in this chapter, but instead of relaxing each part in turn simply stretch them. Begin with the feet, and then work up to the legs, and then up to the arms and head. Stretch in all sorts of ways, twisting your legs, feet, arms, hands, head and body around in a way you feel like to get the full benefit of the stretch. Don’t be afraid of yawning, either; that is simply one form of stretch. In stretching you will, of’ course, tense and contract muscles, but the rest and relief comes in the subsequent relaxation of them. Carry in your mind the “let-go” idea, rather than that of muscular exertion. We cannot attempt to give exercises in stretching, as the variety open to the student is so great that he should not require to have illustrations given him. Just let him give way to the mental idea of a good, restful stretch, and Nature will tell him what to do. Here is one general suggestion, however: Stand on the floor, with your legs spread apart and your arms extended over your head, also spread apart. Then raise yourself on your toes and stretch yourself out gradually as if you were trying to reach the ceiling. A most simple exercise, but wonderfully refreshing.
A variation of stretching may be effected by “shaking” yourself around lose and limp, employing as many parts of your body as you can. The Newfoundland dog, shaking the water from his skin when he emerges from the water, will give you a general idea of what we mean.
All of these plans of relaxing, if properly entered into and carried out~ will leave the one practicing them with a sense of renewed energy and an inclination to again resume work, the same feeling as one experiences after arising from a healthy sleep and a subsequent good rubdown in the bath.
Mental Relaxation Exercise.
Perhaps it will be as well for us to give an exercise in Mental Relaxation before we conclude this chapter. Of course, physical relaxation reacts on the mind and rests it. But Mental Relaxation also reacts upon the body and rests it. So this exercise may reach the needs of some who have not found just what they required in the preceding pages of this chapter.
Sit quietly in a relaxed and easy position and withdraw the mind as far as possible from outside objects arid from thoughts which require active mental effort. let your thought reach inward and dwell upon the real self. Think of yourself as independent of the body and as able to leave it without impairing the individuality. You will gradually experience a feeling of blissful rest and calm and content. The attention must be withdrawn entirely from the physical body and centered entirely upon the higher “I,” which is really “you.” Think of the vast worlds around us, the millions of suns, each surrounded with its group of planets like our earth, only in many cases much larger. ‘Get an idea of the immensity of space and of time; consider the extent of Life in all its forms in all these worlds and then realize the position of the earth and of yourself a mere insect upon a speck of dirt. Then rise upward in your thought and realize that, though you be but an atom of the mighty whole, you are still a bit of Life itself, a particle of the Spirit; that you are immortal, eternal and indestructible; a necessary part of the Whole, a part which the Whole cannot get along without, a piece needed to fit into the structure of the Whole. Recognize yourself as in touch with all of Life; feel the Life of the Whole throbbing through you; the whole ocean of Life rocking you on its bosom. And then awake and return to your physical life and you will find that your body is refreshed, your mind calm and strong, and you will feel an inclination to do that piece of work which you have been putting off for so long. You have profited and been strengthened by your trip into the upper regions of the mind.
A Moment’s Rest.
A favorite Yogi plan for snatching a moment’s rest from the task of the hour-taking rest “on the fly,” as one of our young friends recently expressed itâ€”is as follows:
Stand up straight, with head erect and shoulders thrown back, your arms hanging loosely by your sides. Then raise your heels slowly from the ground, gradually throwing your weight upon the balls of the feet, and at the same time raising your arms up by your sides until they stand out from your shoulders like the outstretched wings of an eagle. Take a deep breath as the weight falls upon the balls of the feet and as the arms spread out and you will feel like flying. Then expel the breath slowly and gradually sink back upon the heels and let the arms sink to their first position. Repeat if you like the sensation. The rising and extending of the arms will impart a feeling of buoyancy and freedom that must be experienced to be realized.