The Yoga Tutor

Yoga Relaxation Techniques

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 146 ]

The physical practices in yoga, such as asanas and kriyas are excellent ways to relieve physical tension. In particular, the loosening or warming exercises known as jattis provide a significant aid. A common Western notion of yoga is that of intense, sweating, heart-pumping, straining stretches. This outlook, a product of our Western sports-fitness mentality, a 'no-pain no-gain' attitude, is one of gaining heath by force.

But the levels of tension are so great in people of modern societies, both in the East and West, that this forceful approach to 'loosening it up' can be more harmful than beneficial. How many people today cannot even touch their own toes?

To remedy this chronic stiffness we need to move in a way that supports loosening and relaxing. One cannot move a stone wall by pushing on it with a hammer.

Similarly, if one were to violently hit the wall, the hammer would soon break. But one can remove this rock-solid structure by slowly and patiently chipping away at it. Similarly, two pipes that are rusted together at their connection cannot be separated by pulling on them, no matter how great the force. Rather, one must patiently and persistently wiggle and shake them loose.

So it is that the jattis are of immense value, themselves having quite a different affect from the static stretching or more forceful physical movements often stressed in yoga today. These seemingly simple movements (jattis) act at the neuro-muscular level, causing a release or relaxation of the 'over-firing' neural impulses which cause contracture or tension in the muscles.

Static stretching, or remaining fixed in the stretch position, helps to elongate muscular tissue, which is a further dimension of the physical practices, but this cannot be achieve nearly as effectively until the superficial and deep-seeded chronic tension has first been relieved.

It is for this very reason that so many people who attend yoga classes today remark that they still have a great deal of tension, even after practicing for a significant amount of time. The 'push, push, push’ mentality of many modern day yogis, especially when they also place insufficient attention on the final relaxation phase of the practice, often leaves students tenser than when they started.

On these and other grounds, we must avoid approaching yoga as a sport, because if we do, we can potentially miss not only the physical benefits, but the higher life-transforming results that we seek too.

As well, there are many other yogic practices, for instance, the jnana yoga kriyas, which also aid greatly in the release of physical as well as mental tension. It is the relaxation of both the physical body and the mind which is the pre-curser for deeper states of relaxation, and the higher aspects of yoga. As Swami Gitananda Giri points out:

"Deep relaxation and yoga are synonymous when we reach the inner phases of yoga. At this stage relaxation is not only body relaxation, but also a state where the physical body, emotions and mind are all brought up into a high state of conscious relaxation. Note the two words in the foregoing sentence: 'up' and 'conscious'. The popular idea of relaxation is 'down' and 'unconscious'.

This is where yoga differs from other [methods of relaxation], where outside control is employed [such as medication or hypnosis]. In yoga, the control is turned over to the higher mind. An elevation of consciousness takes place. After a [yogic] relaxation session, one feels as though they have advanced a step up the ladder of evolution."...


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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