When you begin to learn yoga and until you have become so adept at relaxing that you can, like Napoleon, shut out the world around you at any time and any place, your period of relaxation should be taken away from other people, in a room where you are alone, with the door closed. You will need quiet so as not to be distracted. If you are a city dweller you doubtless cannot avoid a certain amount of traffic noise, but try to control what sounds you can, since conversation, the radio, the ticking of a clock can be most distracting. Keep disturbance at a minimum.
Your clothes should be comfortable, too. In fact, the less you have on the better: Make certain you are not annoyed by a tight belt, a stiff collar, a girdle, a brassiere. Anything that might make you unduly conscious of being physically confined should be avoided. On the other hand you must not feel cold. Be sure there are no drafts in the room -- it is impossible to relax properly while chilly.
The best possible position for Deep Relaxation is the Savasana, the Death Pose. And the best place is the floor. Lie flat on your back, using a rug or folded blanket to protect yourself from the cold boards. If for some reason it is impossible for you to use the floor, then choose a hard bed, preferably one with a bed board. A soft bed will never be completely satisfactory, for as it sags under your weight, certain muscles will inevitably tense up. Moreover, a soft bed might lull you to sleep, and sleep is not what you are after at the moment.
You will probably not feel entirely comfortable when you first try lying like this: the floor will feel too hard, you will find yourself tempted to shift positions. But this you must not do, for in order to relax muscle by muscle it is important to lie quite still. Just remember that every body movement, every shift, however slight, means a tensing of one or another group of muscles. To avoid this, make sure that you are lying comfortably, with your weight fairly evenly distributed.
Once settled, take a few deep breaths from the diaphragm then allow yourself to breathe normally again. The next step is to get acquainted with the feel of your muscles so that you may better control them. Pretend you have just swallowed a tracer substance, and that your muscles are channels through which you are watching it flow.
Now send an order along one of these channels. Move an arm, stretch a leg. Stretch hard, making all the muscles along the way contract -- and study what is happening. You will feel muscles quite far removed from the area with which you are experimenting contract in sympathy. If you clench your fist, for instance, you will feel contractions all the way up your arm and into your shoulder. If you flex your toes, ripples of movement will tense the muscles of your thigh. This is one of the enjoyable stages as you begin to learn yoga.
Now hold the stretch a moment, while you trace your sensations in detail. Memorize them: next time you give your arm an order, you will be able to check whether or not it is being followed. And now let go. Repeat the process limb by limb, until you have a nodding acquaintance with the various groups of muscles through your body.
Now start the stretching all over again, but this time in slow motion. Build the stretch up, slowly, like a cat arching its back. In the meantime let that imaginary tracer substance show you, as clearly as possible, every muscle you have put into play. Observe and note your sensations for future reference. Hold the pose until you are thoroughly aware of what is happening. Then, once more in slow motion, let go.
It is this letting-go process that is the actual mechanism of true relaxation. Think of yourself as a puppet without any strings to hold it up any longer -- could anything be more limp? That is the stage you are trying to reach -- relaxation so complete that you lose all feeling of alertness. This is your goal and a great achievement as you start to learn yoga. Good luck!
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