Different relaxation techniques soothe different people, in different ways.
Visual imagery seems to appeal to me, it helps me to “place myself” within a context that promotes rest and (hopefully) relaxation. I noticed this when being taught by a yoga teacher who is also a painter – she “painted” the scene of how our bodies might respond to relaxation in a way that was powerful. Her choice of words fitted the “scene” – in my mind. That is the nub, of course….”my mind”…whereas your mind may not find any repose through visualisation. An auditory approach – music, mantra, chanting – may suit your mind. Perhaps something entirely different.
Following on from my post on Active rest, I consider a couple of the options commonly used at the end of Yoga classes, in that post-movement phase.
Guided imagery – (Guided Affective Imagery) focuses the imagination in proactive, positive ways. It is based on the mind-body connection and you are led through a “scenario” which your body seems to respond to what is being imagined. A common scenario is to imagine that you are holding an orange; to involve the senses in that experience – the weight, size, texture, smell – and to imagine peeling the orange and then taking a bite. Apparently, many people salivate at this stage – so strong is the mind/body connection.
In Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book “Wherever You Go, There you Are”, the guided imagery of a safe place is used for therapeutic purposes. The idea is that by imagining a safe, comfortable place (that is known/remembered in this instance) you may feel more in control of your emotions and thought processes. This, in turn, may improve your attitude, health and sense of well-being.
One student finds Autogenic Relaxation beneficial and shared a You Tube link from the NHS for Pain Relief. An explanatory leaflet from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation Trust states that the method encourages relaxation via thoughts. Awareness of the body is heightened as the repetition of phrases encourage the listener to relax those parts of the body. This method may appeal to auditory learners. In many yoga classes, a teacher will lead a Progressive Muscle Relaxation at the end of the class. Students systematically tense and release muscles. This helps to feel the difference between tension that is held and what it feels like to release tension. Some teachers add the inbreathe to the tensing and the exhale to the release. Some include a short pause between muscle groups.
For so many of us, habitual tension (shoulders and neck, for example) is so common that we need lots and lots and lots of time to realize that the body is not tense when it is relaxed. Sounds crazy… but!!
Yoga nidra is a guided relaxation technique sometimes named “yogic sleep”. in the book Yoga Nida, Swami Satyananda Saraswati describes a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the “going-to-sleep” stage. In this state, the body is completely relaxed and the student is led to a deepening awareness of the inner world by following a systematic set of verbal instructions. All senses, apart from hearing, are withdrawn and the student is immersed in a “dream environment” with little awareness of the actual environment. One key component is that the student does not fall asleep, thus she remains aware that she is dreaming. This might be compared to lucid dreaming.
There is interest in the state of lucid dreaming at present and it’s potential for self-realization. Mathew Walkers Book “Why We Sleep” explores voluntary dream control and whether it is beneficial (p.234). A Guardian article from April 2014 notes some claims that if we can tap into this state of lucid dreaming, we might “..advance the science of consciousness but it’s a difficult area to study. …………………. It’s also a conceptual problem that some feel unequipped to tackle. After all, what can we make of consciousness when it creates a new world and our experience of it?
Yoga nidra is more easily comprehended I think. A full session of yoga nidra might last for 45 minutes: beginning with a body scan to engage the physical body, and incorporating meditation on the breath, visualization, and self-healing. It includes setting a positive intention, which is called a “sankalpa,” to give the participant a specific purpose to the session. Yoga nidra promotes rest, relaxation and meditation. Lees Yunits, an instructor working in Boston has written of how effective the technique can be with those suffering from post-traumatic stress – military veterans, for example:
\The Veterans Yoga Project places emphasis developing Mindful Resilience through five “tools” : Breathing, Meditation, Mindful Movement, Guided Rest and Gratitude. You can access audio files for these 5 tools on the practice page of the site
The the benefits of sleep on the central nervous system has been documented. A NHS link is entitled Dreams can ease painful memories. A study by University of Michigan doctoral student Jennifer Goldschmied and colleagues found that after waking from a 60-minute midday nap, people were less impulsive and had greater tolerance for frustration than people who watched an hour long nature documentary instead of sleeping (Personality and Individual Differences, 2015). “Frustration tolerance is one facet of emotion regulation,” says Goldschmied. “I suspect sleeping gives us more distance [from an emotional event] — it’s not just about the passing of time.”
In yoga classes the ‘spots of time” that we dedicate to breath, awareness, self-reflection, meditation are so beneficial.
Here is a list of 6 relaxation techniques which you can explore at your leisure: