|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 74 ]
Relaxation is the premise to health and happiness. We can observe that animals and children relax spontaneously very well. With age and lifestyles that breed multiple stresses however, this ability has gradually eroded for most adults. We must therefore 're-learn to relax', or learn to relax 'consciously'.
In yoga, relaxation is given due consideration as it is, among other things, a primary element in the regenerative process and in the energetic recovery of the practitioner, as well as a necessary precursor to attaining higher states of awareness.
Relaxation in yoga is a conscious effort, and not simply collapsing or falling off into a slumber. Discovering yogic relaxation for the first time can be a revelation for many people, often stimulating feelings of euphoria and leaving one with their first sense of the profound.
The Anatomy of Relaxation
On an anatomical level we can observe that the musculature of the body is comprised of three types: voluntary, involuntary and cardiac muscles. Voluntary muscles are the muscles that are under control of the conscious part of the brain and are primarily responsible for physical movement. These may respond well, as a result, to conscious efforts to relax.
Muscles that are not under the conscious control of the brain are the involuntary muscles. They respond to the nervous impulses of the autonomic nervous system. These are the muscles of the internal organs. They surround blood vessels, power the digestive tract, the pupils of the eyelids and all other involuntary mechanisms.
Cardiac muscle also operates involuntarily. Since these involuntary muscles escape the action of the direct will, only yoga succeeds in controlling them.
No muscle can completely relax, however, and as long as a person is alive, their muscles remain slightly contracted. This condition is called 'tonus', or 'tone'. Tone keeps the bones in place and enables the posture to be maintained.
This process occurs as a result of the motor and sensory nerves that connect the muscles with the brain (or conscious command centre). It also maintains the tension necessary in the vessels and organs in order for them to function properly.
A state of 100% tonus in the body is not possible, or else we would be "stiff as a board" inside and out! The normal level of tension or body tonus while in the awakened state is around 70%.
Depending on one’s own individual health, and factors such as stress, anxiety or anger, this number can vary. Dr. Swami Gitananda says that a real state of relaxation does not occur until tonus has been reduced to 38%.
26% tonus is the minimum body tonus required to maintain biological functions, below which it is not possible to exist without the body itself decomposing. So real relaxation requires a state of overall body tonus somewhere between 26% and 38%, a range that most adults today, unfortunately, never experience.
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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