Relaxing into Being
This articles goes deeper into the meditation practice called incremental breathing. If you haven’t read the previous article I recommend reading it first.
It is safe to say that most of us have more tension in our bodies and more pressure in our lives than we want. Maybe it is just me. When it comes to healing from a chronic illness, being able to enter into a state of relaxed calmness is sometimes the difference between regaining one’s well-being and sliding deeper into illness. This article is going to introduce why this so important and offer you an easy practice to improve your health.
Your central nervous system, especially a part of your brain called the reptilian brain, experience chronic tension and distress as actual physical danger. This can cause changes in your digestive system and immune system that are often involved in the process of many chronic and autoimmune diseases. I will describe how that can happen in more detail in an article called “The Devastating Gut Brain Feedback Loop”. For now I want to help you learn a new tool for deep relaxation and I want you to feel inspired and motivated to put this into practice. It may change your life.
For this practice you can choose to be sitting walking, standing or even lying down. It is best to start with sitting to get a feel for the details but after that, practice every way that you can until you find the way that works the best for you.
Just like the introductory practice you will need to focus on incremental breathing, or counting the seconds it takes to breath in and out. The next step is to practice pausing for a few seconds at the top of your breath. If you inhale for 6 seconds, gently hold your breath for 3 seconds and then exhale for 6 seconds. Try it out. Inhale 1-2-3-4-5-6, hold for 1-2-3 and exhale 1-2-3-4-5-6. Some of us are more comfortable with a 4-2-4 count and some are more comfortable with a 8-4-8 count. The numbers don’t matter, just remember that your goal is to keep your awareness on your breath, your posture and relaxing as much as you can as you exhale.
You will notice pretty quickly that holding your breath over and over again doesn’t feel natural and may even be uncomfortable. Sorry, but this is necessary on a lot of levels. If you want meditation to help you heal you are going to have to retrain your Central Nervous system (CNS). That is why this practice asks you to hold your breath. By holding your breath just long enough for your CNS to react causes a very subtle kind of anticipation – making your Central Nervous System, well… nervous. You may be asking why anyone would want to do that? When your nervous system gets nervous – even just a little – your posture and muscles engage in their most recent experience of fight or flight. Some people raise their shoulders, some clench their teeth, some feel butterflies in their stomach and some feel tension in their back. This is an investigation each of us must go through in order to discover precisely how we hold tension in our bodies. Each of us needs to know our nervous patterns of tension in order to actually induce real relaxation. In my experience lying on the couch is resting, actively deconstructing my tension is relaxation.
Again, Inhale 1-2-3-4-5-6, hold for 1-2-3 feeling for any tension in your body, and exhale 1-2-3-4-5-6 relaxing that tension as deeply as possible.
That is the next step. Learn to relax deeply by getting into your very unique way of experiencing and holding tension. In my own practice, if I am trying to relax and I still feel a bit stuck I begin by gently imitating the way I tend onto hold tension in my body. This allows me to bring my attention to where it needs to be, which is on the nervous energy in my nervous system. As I breath out and relax each muscle as thoroughly as I can I will sometimes sway gently side to side, roll my shoulders, tilt my pelvis or roll my head slightly. Sighing out loud is helpful sometimes as well.
Breath in for 6, hold for 3 becoming aware of how you hold tension and breath out for 6 relaxing as deeply, precisely and thoroughly as possible.
Your CNS needs you to do this! It needs to know that you are aware of what is going on and that you are doing something about it. If you are seeking support in recovering from poor health this practice is on my top ten list of things to do everyday or several times a day.
The next article in this series is on letting go and letting in.
“the opposite of disease is ease”