Thursday, October 30, 2008

Relaxing Your Body

As the emerging field of mind-body medicine reminds us — and yogis and sages have been telling us for millennia — your body, your mind, and your heart form one seamless and inseparable whole. When your thoughts keep leaping like the proverbial monkey from worry to worry, your body responds by tightening and tensing, especially in certain key places like the throat, the heart, the solar plexus, and the belly. When the discomfort gets intense enough, you register it as an emotion — fear, perhaps, or anger or sadness.

Because it connects you with your direct experience — and ultimately with a realm of pure being beyond the mind — meditation naturally relaxes yourbody while it focuses your mind. As a beginner, though, you may not experience this natural relaxation for days or even weeks. So it can be helpful to practice one of the techniques in the following list before you meditate, especially if you tend to be noticeably tense. (If you’re one of those rare people who are generally so relaxed that you tend to drift off to sleep at the slightest provocation, you may want to skip this exercise.) Of course, relaxing your body has its own wonderful benefits — but your body won’t stay relaxed until you’re able to work with your mind.

If you’ve never deliberately relaxed your body before, start with the meditation in the “Deep relaxation” sidebar. Because the meditation takes at least 15 minutes to complete, you probably won’t do it each time you meditate, but it does show you how to relax your body part by part. When you’ve practiced this exercise a few times, your body will have a memory of what it’s like to be deeply relaxed, and you can then advance to one of the five-minute relaxations listed here. By the way, deep relaxation is a great antidote for insomnia — just practice it in bed and then drift off to sleep!

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