How Can We Relax?
Relaxation is not just a physical state. It is a complete state of being. When your body is in a relaxed state so is your mind. When your mind is keyed up so is your body. Relaxation won’t be accessible if we attempt to achieve it in our body alone.
Relaxation is an open state that ideally comes before or after attempting to use some part of us for a purpose. Before I use my arms for washing the dishes and wiping the counters they can simply exist in a state of open potential.
Before I apply my mind to understanding and solving a problem of the day it can rest. This restful, open state of potential is a receptive state. When my mind is not engaged in one of the problems of the day it naturally takes in the sound of the breeze, the first few leaves drifting to the ground, a colorful beetle and a small pansy.
The trick is to recognize this open, receptive state and to return to it.
How do we feel when we are not relaxed? The mind is preoccupied, sometimes getting caught in an endlessly repeating loop, and we become unaware of what’s around us. We do not attend to conversation. We do not notice the details of the natural world. It is as though nothing new can come in.
When the body is not relaxed awareness is restricted. One does not feel the lungs breathing or the extra effort we are using to hold ourselves together and hold ourselves upright. When we are relaxed we can sink into the support of gravity and it’s equal and opposite, ground reaction force. When we disconnect ourselves from those forces we try to replace them with our own effort, using our muscles to hold us upright. Without gravity giving us something solid to press against, it requires us to use more effort, like walking on sand versus walking on solid ground.
So, the first trick is to notice gravity pressing us down and to feel how solidly it connects us to the earth. From there it is effortless to feel ourselves pressing back against it, and the feeling of buoyancy and strength that gives us. Like shoving your body off from the side of a swimming pool out into open water, that shove propels you powerfully and easily in the direction of your choice.
The next trick (it’s really the same trick) is to notice the details. It stands to reason that if noticing the details and sensations around us it the result of relaxation, of being in an open state…then we can reverse engineer this and bring ourselves into a state of relaxation by moving our attention to take in what is around us. To notice the movement of the breeze, or a dry stalk of grass, and thereby soothe our mind. To notice the air moving in and out of our bodies and the feeling of gravity connecting us to our seat and thereby feel our kinship with that stalk of grass, and our place in the world.
Try to see if you can feel gravity pulling on your body right now.
What do you notice?
Or feel the deep sense of satisfaction that comes with the nourishment of each in-breath.
Let yourself take in all the sounds around you, the obvious ones as well as the non-obvious ones.
Did it work?