For some, relaxation is one of the hardest things to achieve due to seemingly endless stress, and worry as a result of the world that we humans have created for ourselves. Stress mainly manifests in the muscles, where an unalleviated sympathetic nervous system keeps the body in a virtually constant state of “fight or flight.” When the body is in this state, heart rate increases, stress hormones such as cortisol, as well as adrenaline will be released, and the digestive system slows down. Now, when one’s body is constantly under such an influence as this (as is the case with most in the everyday world of now), it is no wonder that many people find relaxation such an unobtainable hurdle when one is following the path of meditation (or just life in general). More importantly, if one does not attempt to alter their physiological state to lessen the strain of the “fight or flight” clamp down, over time the systems of the body will start to deteriorate due to the fact that, among other health effects, the body’s cells will receive insufficient oxygen and nutrients, and coupled with the erratic operation of the digestive system, will lead to disease–chronic diseases if left unchecked.
The body has special mechanisms to assist it in maintaining homeostasis (balance), however, if things get in the way of the body doing its job–i.e. constant, unrelenting stress; poor nutrition; too much of the wrong things, not enough of the right things (in diet, lifestyle, etc.)–then homeostasis will be harder and harder to achieve, and the body must then employ great reserves to attempt to remedy the problem. This also is a kind of stress–environmetal stress coupled with the strain of the body trying to cope with the stress it is enduring on a daily basis. Now one can see why relaxation is not just a good prerequisite to meditation, but can be an essential component in maintaining the overall health of the body.
How to relax the body
Sit, stand, or lay down and be sure that there are no distractions. The optimal environment for the promotion of relaxation is that of peaceful quiescence. Calm any impulses for extraneous activity, and notice that they are merely firings of neurons, and will pass. Once you realize this, you can train your mind to not attach, and to let things pass.
Scan the body starting from the top of the head, section by section, all the way down to the toes, eliminating tension as your focus descends, by envisioning it melting away like fallen snow in the mid-day sun. When dealing with matters of the brain, visualization is the most powerful tool that you have, for it is the brain’s access panel to the fabric of reality.
As you scan, breathe without attempting to train the breath. As you inhale, do not force it–simply allow it to occur naturally. On the out breath, as the air is moving out of the nose, let it parallel the release of tension in the place that the mind is focused on at the moment. Breathe it out like a deflating balloon. Do not use force.
Once relaxation has been achieved, simply sit in your body with your “empty” muscles, and the free flow of the blood pumping through your vessels.
With your newly relaxed body, you can proceed to meditate, or carry on with your day, or stay with the state as long as you wish. It is up to you.