Relaxing the mind is a great goal of Buddhist practice, but to do so you need to relax the body as well. Sister Chan Khong teaches us a three-step practice to access a deep rest that rivals sleep. Illustrations by Carole Hénaff.
Having a spiritual practice does not mean that we only take care of our mind. Body and mind are two sides of a reality and support each other. Because of our way of living and consuming, stress builds up in our body and erodes our sense of well-being. By taking care of our body and incorporating moments of deep relaxation into our daily lives, we reduce stress, anxiety, and irritation, and help balance our body and mind.
Sometimes our body needs to rest, but our mind still wants to do many things. Although we believe that we can overcome the needs of the body with our mind, this is not something we can continue to do forever. From time to time we have to stop, bring our consciousness into our body and relax. Otherwise, the tension builds up and we can lose our temper very easily and be cruel. When we are disturbed by a strong emotion or feel that we are getting tired, that it is too much and that we are going to break up, this is the perfect time for deep relaxation.
We use our consciousness as a ray of light, bringing relaxation to each part.
The practice of deep relaxation is based on a teaching called Mindfulness of the Body in the Body.Kayagata-sati Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 119), in which the Buddha advises us to visit all parts of our body to find out what is happening in our body. Just as we practice being aware of every state of our mind, accepting, understanding, and then releasing every state that arises, so we practice with our body, visiting each part with awareness, acceptance, care, and without judgment.
A full relaxation session can last from twenty minutes to an hour. We use our consciousness as a ray of light to explore our body, bringing awareness and relaxation to each part.
1. Awareness of Breathing and the Earth
Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. If you prefer, you can sit in a chair. Get comfortable, close your eyes and relax. Start following your breath and just be with your inspiration and exhalation. Feel the earth beneath you, supporting you. Bring your consciousness to your abdomen going up and down. If you feel agitated or scattered, place your hand on your abdomen and feel it rise and fall as the air comes in and out. Calm down, “Inspiring, I’m in my inspiration. Exhaling, I’m in my breath.”
2. Body scan and gratitude
Keep following your breathing as you bring awareness and relaxation to every part of your body from the top of your head to your toes. You can start with the scalp, scalp, brain, forehead, and so on. For each part of the body, calmly say something like, “Inspiring, I’m aware of my eyes. Exhaling, I release tension from every little muscle around my eyes.”
As you turn your attention to each part of your body in turn, contemplate your gratitude. For example, we often forget our heart, but it beats night and day. We now have the opportunity to pay attention to our heart and show our gratitude to our heart. Silently say to yourself, “Inspiring, I draw my attention to my heart. Exhaling, I am aware of my heart.”
3. Let in a deep relaxation
Bring your consciousness to your abdomen going up and down. Enjoy a few minutes of quiet or soft music. If you feel sleepy during the session, do not resist. The sleep experienced during deep relaxation is brief, but it is free of agitation and is nutritious and healing. Once the session is over, move your arms and legs and then open your eyes. sit gently. Do some stretching. Get up slowly. Take a moment to breathe and be aware of the sensations in your body.
When you have a busy day at work, school, or family activities and don’t have time for a full deep relaxation session, divide the day into segments and relax between each segment or activity. I myself take several deep relaxation breaks each day. We believe that we cannot take a moment to rest, but only a few minutes of deep relaxation can renew and restore peace and vitality to our body and mind.
Find a place to lie down where it doesn’t bother you. If there is not enough space, pull a chair close to the wall, close your eyes, and stretch your legs. Relax your body and follow your breath. Pay attention to only a few parts of your body instead of the whole sequence. The shoulders are usually a good place to get our attention: “When I breathe, I am aware of my shoulders. I exhale, relax my shoulders and release the tension. “After relaxing like this for a few minutes, you will arrive at your next activity refreshed and with more physical energy and mental clarity.
Deep relaxation can also help if you have trouble sleeping. Lie down on the bed and be aware of your breathing. Place your hand on your abdomen, feeling it go up and down with your breathing and exhalation. You could easily say, “When I inhale, I’m aware of the muscles in my face. Exhaling, I release the muscles in my face,” or simply, “Inhaling, smiling. Exhaling, I release.” A soft smile will relax the muscles of the face and help calm the nervous system. This is the loving goodness directed at yourself. Even if you don’t sleep, resting this way can be almost as good as sleeping.
#practice #deep #relaxation
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