Life has become very complex these days. The struggle for existence is very acute and keen. A great deal of constant mental and physical strain is imposed on humanity by its daily work and unhealthy mode of life. Action produces movements and these in turn cause habits. Man has acquired many artificial habits. He has brought tension to many of the muscles and nerves through incorrect posture. He has forgotten the very first principles of relaxation.

If you practise relaxation regularly, no energy will be wasted. You will be very active and energetic. During relaxation, the muscles and nerves are at rest. The prana or energy is stored up and conserved. Most people waste their energy by creating unnecessary movements and by putting the muscles and nerves under great strain. Some people shake their legs unnecessarily while sitting. Some strum their fingers on the table while their minds are idle or vacant. Some whistle. Some shake their heads. Some tap their chests or abdomen with their fingers. Energy is thus dissipated through all these unnecessary movements, due to lack of knowledge of the elementary principles of the science of relaxation.

Do not mistake laziness for relaxation. A lazy person is inactive, full of lethargy and inertia. But the person who practises relaxation only takes a rest. He has vigour, strength, vitality and endurance. He never allows even a small amount of energy to trickle away. He accomplishes a great deal of work gracefully in a minimum amount of time.

A person with an easily irritable nature cannot enjoy peace of mind. The brain, nerves, and muscles are always under great tension. Although he may be endowed with physical strength, he is weak because he loses his balance of mind very easily. If you really want to enjoy unruffled peace and abiding joy, you must try to possess a calm, controlled and balanced mind by eradicating the impulses of worry, fear and anger. If you worry frequently, a worrying habit is developed. Your vitality and energy are drained away. The muscles and nerves are always under contraction and great tension. Why should you be afraid of anything at all, when everything is nothing but your own Self?

The raising of impulses and counter-impulses, or repressing impulses, causes more tension in the nerves, muscles and brain. Many people are slaves to their impulses; hence they do not enjoy peace of mind. They are tossed about hither and thither. The science of relaxation is an exact science. It can be learnt very quickly. Relaxation of the muscles is as important as their contraction. I lay great emphasis on the relaxation of the mind, the nerves and the muscles. Relaxation is of two kinds – physical and mental.

Physical relaxation

You must know how to relax all the muscles of your body. This will rest the body and the mind. The tension of the muscles will be relieved. People who know the art of relaxing do not waste any energy. They can meditate well. After finishing your exercises and asanas, lie flat on your back. Keep the arms relaxed at the sides. Keep them quite loose. Relax all the muscles from head to foot. Roll the mind over the body from top to toe. You may find that certain muscles are not completely relaxed. Relax them also. Roll on to one side and then relax as completely as possible. Do not strain any of the muscles. Relax completely. Roll on to the other side and then relax again. This is done naturally by everyone during sleep. Relax the head, shoulders, arms, forearms, wrists, fingers, thighs, legs, ankles, toes, knees, elbows, waist, etc. When you practise this exercise, think of calmness and strength.

Relaxation refreshes you completely. If you do not possess a knowledge of this science of internal and external relaxation, you will waste your physical and mental energy considerably. Yogis conserve their physical and mental energy and utilise it to their best advantage. Those who practise relaxation never experience fatigue. They can close their eyes for a few minutes even while standing and so prepare themselves for further work. Energy flows into their nerves when they relax, just as water flows when a tap is opened.

Physical relaxation is an art and as such it has to be practised regularly in order to achieve success and gain the maximum benefit. Success in physical relaxation will make mental relaxation easier.

Mental relaxation

Just as you relax your muscles after having practised your asanas and physical exercises, so also you have to relax the mind after concentration and meditation, and after the practice of memory training and will-culture. Relaxation of the muscles brings repose to the body and relaxation of the mind brings repose to the body. The body and mind are intimately linked. The body is a mould prepared by the mind for its enjoyment.

The mind gathers experiences through the body and works in conjunction with the prana, senses and body. The mind influences the body. If you are cheerful, the body will also be healthy and strong. When you feel depressed, the body cannot work. Conversely, the body has some influence over the mind. If the body is healthy and strong, the mind also will be happy, cheerful and strong. If there is a little stomach-ache, the mind cannot work well. Thought manifests as action, and action reacts on the mind. The mind acts on the body and the body reacts on the mind. Removal of tension in the muscles brings repose and calmness to the mind.

By relaxing, you rest the mind, the tired nerves and the overworked muscles. You get immense peace of mind, strength and vigour. When you practise relaxation of either the body or the mind, the brain should not be occupied with various kinds of irrelevant, extraneous thoughts. Anger, envy, disappointment, failure, misery, sorrow and quarrels cause internal mental strain. The practice of relaxing the mind will remove this internal mental strain and fill the mind with new mental energy. It will make you cheerful and happy.

Sit for fifteen minutes in a relaxed state in an easy, comfortable position. Close your eyes. Withdraw the mind from all outer objects. Still the mind. Silence the bubbling thoughts. You can think of anything that is pleasant, a beautiful scene, a lovely sunset, a vast expanse of ocean, the infinite blue sky. Imagine that the whole world and your body are floating like a straw in this vast ocean of spirit. Feel that you are in touch with the Supreme Being. Feel that the life of the whole world is pulsating, vibrating and throbbing through you. Then open your eyes. You will experience great mental peace, mental vigour and mental strength. Practise and feel this power within.

Source: “The Art of Relaxation based on the Teachings of Swami Sivananda Saraswati,” Yoga Magazine of the Bihar School of Yoga