To reverse well-established habits of holding tension in our bodies, we need to work with what yoga practitioners call the energy body. Body relaxation practices offer a precise, orderly technique for releasing tension from head to toe. There are a number of these techniques, and like all practices, they are best home through consistent practice. They range in complexity from simple tension/relaxation exercises to techniques that require making fine distinctions among the various points in our energy body. But all involve moving your attention through the body in a methodical manner. And all require that you withdraw your attention from the drama in your life.
For the duration of this technique let go of your memories, plans, and worries, as best as you can and focus on what you are doing here and now as you move your awareness calmly and quietly from one part of the body to another. Breathing from the diaphragm, while systematically bringing your full attention to one point in the body after another, not only releases tension in the places where you place your attention, it also enhances the energy flow among those points.
Try the body relaxation technique now.
Close your eyes, and start with the toes and moving slowly up your body, ask yourself “Where am I tense?” When you discover a tense area, exaggerate the tension slightly, so you can become aware of it. Be aware of the muscles in your body that are tense. Then, for example, say to yourself, “I am tensing my neck muscles…I am creating tension in my body.” At this point, be aware of anything that is creating tension in your body and what you might do to change it.
Relaxation Without Tension
The relaxation without tension technique can be substituted for progressive muscle relaxation when you wish to use a quicker, less obvious method – useful when you are actually in an anger provoking situation. It can be used anywhere, without the potentially self-conscious routine of progressive muscle relaxation.
You go through the major muscle groups of your body in exactly the same sequence as the above progressive muscle relaxation. But this time don’t tighten anything. Instead, scan each muscle group for tension and relax away any tightness you may experience. The catch phrase observe and relax should be used frequently throughout this practice. Be sure to begin and end the Relaxation without tension technique with a deep breath. Go ahead and try the technique:
- Take a deep breath. Focus on your arms and notice any tension you may feel there. Now relax away the tension. Just let it go. Notice and relax the tension. Feel the difference as you relax your arms. Now turn your attention to your upper face. Notice any tension and relax it away, let it go. Notice and relax the tension. As you relax, really feel the difference in your upper face. Notice any tension in your jaw, and relax. Relax it away. Notice what it feels like for your jaw to let go, to be really loose.
Focused Awareness of Body Sensation
Focusing your awareness on a specific area of your body also activates the PSNS. Listen to your body and feel with relaxed concentration to your breath moving through your nostrils, or to the feeling of your chest filling with air; or the pressure of the ground on the bottom of your feet; or your tongue pressing up onto the roof of your mouth. By becoming aware of sensation in specific areas of your body you activate the PSNS and begin the calming response. Go ahead and try a couple of the mentioned techniques right now.
Where do you hold tension in your body?