~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Yoga Basics: Relaxation 101

July 28, 2010
If peace of mind were as simple as reminding ourselves to calm down and relax whenever our minds grew agitated, most of us would wander around like blissed-out Buddhist monks most of the time. The hard truth is that like any other worthwhile skill, relaxation takes practice.

Thankfully, yoga offers us a training ground where we can cultivate this fine art. And the skills we learn in our daily practice can support us in the rest of our lives, helping us manage stressful times with clarity and balance.

What can we do to deepen our ability to drop into a state of relaxation and ease? The following tricks of the trade may help you find your way back to balance and tranquility, both on and off the mat.

Exhale. One of the best ways to bring yourself right back down to earth is to lengthen your exhalation. This form of breathing encourages the nervous system to grow calm and quiet, moving the body into a more restful state of being.

Focus your mind. Sometimes when the world sends us spinning we want nothing more than to drop into an easy chair and do absolutely nothing. But often this approach just lets the brain continue its obsessive and agitated thinking. Instead, offer your mind a constructive and engaging focus. In yoga, practice a challenging asana or an absorbing breathing practice. In your day-to-day life, dive into a project that concentrates your mind so fully that the rest of the world disappears, at least for a little while.

Minimize external stimulation. Turn off the television, unplug the telephone, dim the lights and put on your coziest pajamas. Turn down the volume of your life, remembering that outer calm nurtures inner calm. During yoga practice, use an eye bag or eye wrap during restorative postures to quiet the eyes and brain.

Substitute positive thoughts for negative ones. The ancient yoga sage Patanjali counseled that when we are disturbed by negative thought patterns, we can recover our balance by inviting opposite thoughts instead. So the next time your mind sends you spinning with an agonizing fear or depressing thought, notice the negative habit, toss it out, and use your creativity to develop a more peaceful and positive observation about the world.

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal (December 2003)