Relaxation And Breathing

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That you should relax completely in sitting postures is a common miscon ception. What actually happens is that the body and mind should b< brought to a heightened state of attention and alertness, an awareness that takes its origin from your core and permeates the head, neck, trunk, and extremities. The only skeletal muscles that are entirely inactive are thi muscles of facial expression. The muscles of the upper extremities should be generally relaxed, especially the shoulders, but they should be in a state of readiness, expressing just enough tone to stabilize the posture and remind you of your geometry. The lower extremities are a different story. They form your base, and even though there should be an overall feeling of ease, they will have to remain in a mild state of isometric contraction to keep the posture looking respectable.

Figure 10.1ft. The definitive test of sitting straight requires that the back of the head, chest, and sacrum barely touch a perpendicular surface, preferably using an unpropped cross-legged sitting posture. This is a standard that few can attain. Lack of hip flexibility is a common problem, and most people droop their heads forward. Try it anyway; it will give you feedback about your posture.

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After you have settled on a meditation posture and have had some experience with it, you can make improvements with specific breathing techniques. Start with diaphragmatic breathing and notice that inhalation deepens the lumbar lordosis, pulls the chest back, and lifts the head and neck. Ordinary exhalations reverse all of these effects, permitting your head and chest to come forward and allowing the lumbar lordosis to flatten. But if you emphasize exhalation with the abdominal muscles by pressing inward gently from below, you will quickly notice that this prevents the posture from deteriorating. Make the movements as subtle as you can so that someone watching you from the side would see the posture improve only over a period of several minutes. As soon as you are straight, still, and relaxed, do your meditation.

At the end of a period of sitting you should feel alert, centered, and wide awake. But you will probably not feel like jumping up immediately to resume your daily activities. Now you can relax. Simply "let go" and allow gravity to bring you forward until the forehead is resting on the floor. You can clasp your hands behind your back, or you can make them into fists and place one on each side of the groin. Rest there for as long as you like (fig. 10.17). This is yoga mudra—the symbol of yoga.

Two veils are said to stand between the student and reality, between the student and what the yogis call enlightenment—the veil of body and the veil of mind. Patanjali's Yoga-Sutras begins with three terse aphorisms: "Now an exposition of yoga;" then, "Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of mind;" and last, "Then the seer rests in his own true nature." Few students are prepared to make use of such stark and mysterious statements, but all accomplished yogis honor them. They know that Patanjali is not referring to hatha yoga hut to meditation, and they know that to shred the veil of mind the aspirant must sit steadily and comfortably for long periods of time. To prepare for this the practices of hatha yoga are supreme. The expert in hatha yoga is even called a "knower of the ved." And within that realm alone there is much to know.

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