Preksha Dhyana: Human Body Part II (Health Care) ► [10] Relaxation

Posted: 27.04.2010

Age of Tension

The existence of mental stress no a part of modern life-style has been universally accepted. Frequent stressful situations such as worries about overdue bills, shortages of essential commodities, unemployment, crime and such other modern concerns affect us not only mentally but also undermine our physical health. Any condition that needs behaviour adjustment could be regarded as stressful situation. Whenever one encounters such a situation, an innate mechanism is automatically put into action. Thereby conditions which are not conducive to the optimum balanced functioning of the autonomic nervous system are brought about. This results in what is called sympathetic dominance and appropriate physiological changes, viz. rise in blood-pressure, acceleration of heart-rate, increased metabolic activity and respiration, and a rise in blood sugar.

The stress mechanism begins its functioning with the adrenal glands increasing its secretion and output of specific hormone—epinephrine—which in turn activates the sympathetic nervous system. Hyperfunction of the adrenals seems to be the price we must pay for our modern stress-oriented society. The adrenal flow is brought to excess by pain, fear, rage, excitement or any of the-painful emotions. Excessive adrenal output was very much necessary as activating force in the 'fight or flight' primitive age of the man. But excessive use of any.of nature's forces will sooner or later pauperize these forces. Today our fighting and running away may not be as crude as the primitive man's but it is still as destructive to our body. Our jealousies, hates, fears, struggles for wealth, power, position, our lusts and superstitions—all call upon the reserve supply of adrenal secretion until the glands are exhausted. The system is under constant shock and the reserve energy is under call all the time. Under too long continued stress, the endocrine system first breaks down and then ceases to function altogether. The adrenals stop sending out the supply of epinephrine. Consequently the heart slows, the blood-vessels relax and the brain loses its blood-supply and unconsciousness may follow. A general condition of collapse may ensue and if adrenalin is not supplied by artificial means to give a chance to the latent forces within to recuperate, death may follow.

Tranquilizers, the pills of modern pharmacology, may bring an apparent temporary respite, but in the long run the remedy proves worse than the.disease. Question then arises: are we destined to be doomed by our environment or are we capable of adapting ourselves so as to avoid, at least, the more injurious effect of the daily stress?

Fortunately, we do also possess an innate protective mechanism, which, if activated, produces physiological condition that is diametrically opposite to the 'fight-or-flight' response. Nobel-Laureate, Swiss Physiologist, Dr. Walter has called this mechanism 'tropotrophic response', and described it as a protective mechanism against overstress promoting restorative processes. Dr. Herbert Benson, M.D. has termed this reaction as the 'relaxation response'. It is possible to train ourselves to activate this mechanism and to reverse the hyper-function of the adrenal through controlled mental practice, viz total relaxation.

What is Relaxation?

Relaxation is the most direct and harmless antidote to tension. Without it there is no chance of peace, health or happiness, although one might possess everything else to make one happy. If one learns the technique of relaxation and practises it every day for 1/2 to 3/4 an hour, he would remain relaxed in any situation.

For proper appraisal of relaxation, we must know the muscular functions. Muscles contract with lightening speed when stimuli is applied to the connecting nerve. Skeletal muscles allow us action of movement at will. To understand the action of movement, the muscles, may be compared to an electro-magnet and the nerve, which stimulates it to action, to the electric wire which connects it to the brain.

During sleep, practically no current circulates in the nerves and the electro-magnet is almost entirely demagnetized; most of the muscles are relaxed and limp except those which are necessary for reasons of security and survival.

When one is resting, a weak current flows through the nerve, barely magnetizing the muscles and the muscles are in a quiescent state. Whenever one moves or is engaged in physical activity, the current increases in response in the order from the brain, activating the electro-magnets. The muscles contract, the arm bends and the fist clenches. The number of minute motors set in motion is proportional to the intensity of the effort.

All the three states described above, normally, occur many times a day. The fourth state, abnormal yet frequent, is the state of hypertension. Perpetually tightened jaws, frowning brows and hardened stomach-muscles are some of the visible signs of this state. In this state, electro-magnets are over magnetized by a strong current leaving muscle-groups in a state of permanent contraction, quite often unnecessarily. This results in a colossal waste of nervous as well as muscular energy, because there is a constant leakage of current. The amount of energy thus wasted will depend upon the number of motor muscles activated rather than on their size or strength because the nervous impulse needed to contract a small facial muscle is practically the same as a large leg muscle. Thus the total loss of energy will be proportional to both the number of motor nerves and the strength of current flowing in each of the conductor wires. Besides, every day millions of old, useless and dead cells are replaced by young, healthy ones in all our tissues except nerves. Nerve-cells are never renewed or replaced. Their numbers keep on decreasing as we get older. If we injure them, by, for example, overwork in the form of mental stress, they are lost for ever, leaving behind irreparable gaps. Now, it is possible to disconnect the wires carrying current to the electro-magnets i.e. muscles, more efficiently than in sleep, by conscious and voluntary action. This reduces the flow of current almost to nil and the output of energy to the minimum. This is what is meant by total relaxation.

Relaxation, if properly done, can relieve tension and fatigue more effectively in half an hour than many hours of indifferent sleep. It is an exercise of the mastery of conscious will over the body. Will, however, is not the tyrant with dictatorial powers, cracking the whip, but as gentle and patient as a loving mother with an obstinate child. In other words, relaxation can never be acquired by force, constraint or violence, but by persuasive auto-suggestions. It is thus a sophisticated form of hypotonia. In time, relaxation could become a habit, not a mechanical one, but an effortless conscious way of life. If one can remain relaxed under the most exasperating conditions, he has truly achieved mastery of conscious will over body.

The Technique of Relaxation

Normally relaxation is to be practised in a lying-down position (it can also be done in a sitting posture), but before lying down, create a suitable atmosphere for the exercise. Standing up recite loudly. "It is essential for me to relax to get rid of the physical, mental and emotional tensions and I shall devote myself wholly to the exercise of relaxation." Having thus resolved, try to set aside your worries. Take a deep breath and stretch yourself fully, taking your arms above your head and standing on your toes. Do this 3 to 4 times. Then lie down and repeat the stretching operation again 3 to 4 times. Relaxation is an exercise in non-activity which is its basic principle. Don't think that you are going to do something, but let yourself go. This is essential. Now you are ready to start the practice of relaxation.

Always relax on a hard surface. Lie down on a blanket on the floor on your back, legs slightly apart (about 10-12 inches between the heels), arms gently alongside the body, palms turned up. The head must be laid very carefully on the floor so that there is no tension in the neck. If this is not comfortable, a folded towel may be kept under the neck. Later, do without it, but complete comfort is essential.

Since breathing and relaxation are linked together, pay attention to your breathing first. If it is shallow, hasty and/or encumbered, or if its rhythm is irregular, regularise it by autosuggestion. The breathing should become calm, slow and rhythmic but not necessarily deep. The stomach rises and falls rhythmically and silently without, effort. Having regulated the breathing, forget it, and commence stage by stage relaxation of every muscle in each part of the body from the toes in the feet to the top of the head. The body itself will remain entirely motionless (except for the slight rise and fall of the abdomen) and the Conscious Will will slowly move over every part, patiently persuading it to relax.

Proceed in small steps, beginning with the toes of the right foot, working systematically upwards in each limb, in turn. Relax the toes, instep, heel and upto the ankle joint of the right limb. Move upwards in small steps from joint to joint i.e. from the ankle to the knee, relaxing the calf muscles and then from the knee to the hip joint relaxing the thigh muscles. Now repeat the same process with the left limb. Both the limbs from waist downwards are now relaxed and lifeless. In the next stage, relax the muscles of the abdomen at the hip, around the waist and at the base of the spine; then abdominal walls in the front and back upto the hip. Now relax all the internal organs inside the abdominal cavity, viz. kidneys, intestines, spleen, pancreas, stomach and liver. Next, relax the chest muscles round the rib cage in the front as well as the back. The lungs and the heart inside the chest cavity have already been slowed down adequately. Having relaxed the whole trunk up to the top of the chest and collar bone, proceed to relax each arm in turn, first the right and then the left, from the fingers and thumb to the shoulder. Again upwards in small step from joint to joint, first the thumb, fingers and the' palm upto the wrist, then from wrist to the elbow and from elbow to the shoulder blades. This brings us upto the neck. In the next stage relax the neck i.e. the top of the back, the nape and the throat.

We have now come to slightly more difficult part of the technique. It is comparatively easy to relax the large skeletal muscles of the trunk and limbs, but, because of our tight-lipped posture, it is more difficult to relax the facial muscles. However, we have to proceed with the work with confider and patience. Begin with relaxing the jaws, when the lower jaw falls without opening the mouth. Inside the mouth, the teeth must be unclenched and the tongue becomes limp. Next come to the facial muscles which surround the lips, mouth, nostrils and the cheeks. Then relax each in turn and come to the eyes. Eyelids are gently closed over the eyeballs without pressing them. Each eye is meticulously relaxed in turn. Now move over to the forehead and temples. Finally relax the whole scalp from right to left and back to front, upto the top of the head. Having gone over the whole body, from feet to head, the operation may be repeated, as in the meantime some muscles might have recontracted. This second round will be much quicker than the first, followed by a third if necessary. It should be remembered that the auto-suggestion is followed by an experience of relaxation in each portion of the body. The next stage is to recognize the state of relaxation. Having remained completely motionless, the first sign of relaxation is the sensation of gravity. Do not fight against the force of gravity, let it pull at your trunk and limbs which become heavier and heavier. Let the shoulders sink down. When the whole body has become relaxed, there is an acute perception of the state of relaxation which is no longer auto-suggestion but a real experience. Once this stage is reached, the body is forgotten and the consciousness reveals its separate existence.

What is the physiological mechanism behind this feeling? As we have seen, while the muscles were being relaxed progressively, less and less current flew in the connecting motor nerves, giving them a chance to rest. Ultimately, the whole motor mechanism became passive and reposed. This was followed by their counterparts, the sensory nerves which are responsible for transmitting sensations to the brain. Thus, while conscious self was quite wakeful and alert, the body - physical self—was gradually becoming bereft of consciousness, giving a realistic experience of the detachment of the non-material consciousness from its material counterpart. Total relaxation is characterized by an actual experience of floating outside one's body, and this is definitely not auto-suggestion or hypnosis but realisation of a real fact.

Reverting to the physiological shell, almost all the nerve-cells are revitalized. They are enjoying a much needed recess period, free from the burden of controlling the household chores of movements and transmission of sensations to the brain. No wonder, then, that a short period of relaxation can invigorate more efficiently that a long period of restless sleep. And this brings up a question of relationship between relaxation and sleep. It must be quite clear from the above that going to sleep while practising relaxation is quite contrary to the purpose of the exercise. Relaxation may, however, be practised before going to sleep ending in peaceful slumber.

Physical relaxation is precondition for the psychical relaxation which is dealt with in another section of this book. When the relaxation exercise is over, you have to recall the muscles and nerves to their normal state of working. Do this by allowing your Conscious Will to go over each part of the body from head to feet, breathing regularly and consciously.

Golden Silence

Would you believe that a public speaker uses a great deal more nervous energy than a labourer doing a lot of strenuous work with his muscles does? This is because the total amount of nervous energy required is proportional to the number of motor units [1] and not the size of the muscles. Almost equal amount of nervous impulse is necessary to contract a small facial or vocal muscle as for a large leg muscle. Thus an orator who puts a large number of small muscles to work expends much more energy than a labourer; a steno-typist uses more than a blacksmith does. That is why silence is so valuable in conserving and preventing the avoidable waste of energy.

What happens when you speak? An idea which forms in your mind, must first be instantly translated into words with accurate grammar and syntax. In order to allow you to speak, precise orders must be sent out to the muscles of the vocal chord to contract, relax and vary the amount of air used. Contractions of the muscles of tongue, lips, and face require thousands of small motor nerves, each expending its own quota of energy, to participate in the act of speaking. In fact, a speech, lasting perhaps a couple of hours may completely exhaust an average person. You can prevent this colossal waste of energy only by observing SILENCE.

But it is not enough to stop speaking aloud. Silence really means that the mental process of speech must also be halted as this can be as exacting as loud talk in terms of nervous energy. This is because almost every motor unit named above, except the vocal chord, has to go through the same motions as are necessary for loud speech. Thus internal silence is as essential as the external or vocal silence.

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Published by:
Jain Vishva Bharati
Ladnun-3 41 306 (Rajasthan)

Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar

© Jain Vishva Bharati

Edition: May, 1993

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