Relaxation:

Relaxation is a state of rest. As implied by the meaning it is only possible, when we have stopped all activities. In order to relax we must stop moving around, stop working, thinking, talking, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting – in short all activities must be withheld. When all these activities are brought to temporary cessation, we enter a state of rest. So the notion of relaxation by watching TV, movie, or by listening to music is a paradox! These are recreational activities and not relaxation. Let us try to analyze what “relaxation” actually means in laymen terms. When we stop all voluntary activities, then, we put our body & mind to rest. We are left to perform only activities such as breathing, heartbeat, metabolism, blood circulation, etc., which we refer to as involuntary activities and this state is termed as “sleep”. When we add awareness to this equation, it results in “relaxation”. Therefore

RELAXATION = SLEEP with AWARENESS

That is, in other words to say that relaxation is a state of resting all voluntary activities and being aware of involuntary activities. Relaxation is therefore a two-fold process: Physical and Mental. Comparatively, the physical aspect is easier to achieve. It is the mental aspect that remains a mystery to many. Many questions like “How do you actually create awareness about the involuntary activities?” or “How do we bring about mental relaxation?” are some of the common questions that bother most of us when we try to relax.

The simple answer to all these questions is “Yoga”. Yoga believes firmly in the notion that the balance between body and the mind is the state of health. The process of breathing is believed to be the bridge between body and mind. Practicing Pranayama (Yogic breathing technique) is the best way to help us in performing mind related practices. Please note that thePranayama is simply a preparatory practice and not the entire relaxation technique. There are other practices such as Shavasana (Corpse Posture) which are easy to practice but difficult to achieve perfection in. This art has been practiced by the yogis since ancient times. It is believed that they learnt the art of relaxation by observing the animals in deep relaxation during sleep, and especially during hibernation.

Meditation:

As far as meditation is concerned, a fallacy that it is equal to concentration has been developed

in the minds of the public. It is important to note that concentration is a tool and a pre-requisite for meditation practice. In order to meditate, we begin by concentrating or focusing on channelizing our thoughts. Slowly, we try to drop all thoughts one by one except that one thought on which we are supposed to meditate. You see, meditation is a process and it happens after we have practiced for long time. Therefore, instead of saying we are meditating, it’d be ideal to say that we are practicing meditation. There are a lot of techniques for practicing meditation. The basic principles of meditation are similar to Yoga. Meditation is universal. It transcends all divides like religion, country and culture. It is a gift given to mankind to access the infinite sprit not limited by any identity. It is the only tool that can aid a person to return to innocence.

Benefits of meditation and relaxation:
  • State of Equilibrium: When our nervous system is overwhelmed by stress, our body is flooded with chemicals which prepare us for “fight or flight” situation. It is ironic how the stress during an emergency situation acts as a lifesaving phenomenon by helping us to react quickly. At the same time, our body wears down if it is constantly activated by excessive stress, especially for a continuous & long term. Relaxation & meditation processes help by putting brakes on the heightened state of readiness (anxiety) and brings the mind back into a state of equilibrium.
  • Physical benefits: Even a few minutes of deep meditation practice induces fall in blood pressure and pulse rate and therefore helps reduce the strain on the heart. This phenomenon also helps in revitalizing the overtaxed nerve centers apart from inducing a drop in the muscle tension sometimes even below the basal muscular tension level. Just as you save energy on your laptop by putting it on “hibernate” mode, relaxation & meditation practice conserves the energy which is constantly produced by our body cells for future use and therefore helps us in feeling more energetic through the day.
  • Mental benefits: Meditation & relaxation practice helps in stabilizing us emotionally. This is beneficial in many ways, some of which are noted here:
    • Reduces anxiety & anger
    • Develops sense of well-being
    • Develops intuition
    • Brings about clarity & peace of mind
    • Induces ability to focus
    • Reduces tension & fear
    • Spiritual development by helping us transform from self to higher consciousness.
Note on research:

Some of the key researches on meditation were carried out by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard

University. In his book, “The Relaxation Response”, which was published in 1968, he mentions of a series of experiments into various popular meditation techniques. Dr. Benson established that these techniques had a very real effect on reducing stress and controlling the fight-or-flight response.

    Some of the direct effects were noted as:
  • Slowed heartbeat and breathing
  • Reduced oxygen consumption
  • Increased skin resistance.

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