Learn to Relax

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

The root cause of mental and physical tension is faulty thinking in relation to other people and to our surroundings. Our way of thinking does not harmonize with our external environment. This results in conflicts of interest between ourselves and other people. Our internal environment does not match our pattern of existence. In other words, we live in the same way that a fish would out of water – continually fighting our surroundings instead of merging and flowing with life.

Consider life as a jigsaw puzzle. If each piece of the puzzle fits and is in the right position, then the picture is complete and in balance. But if some pieces don’t fit or if they belong to a different jigsaw puzzle, then there is no unity. It is the same with people in the world: when there is conflict with their outer surroundings, there is disharmony. Generally, there are few changes that an individual can make to the external environment, and so the change to bring harmony must come from the internal environment, one’s attitude to life and other people. When you peacefully coexist with your surroundings, and no longer separate yourself, then tension is removed; you begin to relax.

The factors that prevent somebody from fitting in with their surroundings are fear and the six friends: kama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and matsarya or desire, anger, greed, attachment, arrogance and jealousy. These are accumulated since birth and cause disruptive interactions with others. They remain mainly in the subconscious layers of the mind, but have an enormous influence on our daily life. Here is a simple example. Perhaps one person is scared of the dark because as a young child he was accidentally left alone in the dark. The resulting fear continues into adulthood, so that now he is always afraid of the dark. Whenever he has to walk in the dark he becomes tense and fearful. Other people have inferiority complexes, others a fear of heights etc., all because of previous unpleasant experiences. Our minds are full of such fears and complexes, and these are the major causes of tension in our lives.

Physical manifestations of mental tension

Normally, the body’s muscles are supplied with a continuous weak influx of nerve impulses from the brain. This is known as muscular tone and maintains the muscles in a healthy and prepared condition for instant action if required.

Every psycho-physiological disturbance, every negative and destructive emotion causes conflict in the brain. This interferes with the normal tonic rhythm of the muscles and keeps them in an abnormally high state of tension. This over-activation of the muscles without the corresponding muscular activity results in a continual drain of prana from the body. This is like leaving the car lights on – after some time they drain all the power out of the battery. If you turn the lights off when they are not needed, then the energy of the car battery will be conserved. It is the same with the muscles – if you turn off the tension in life then you can conserve your body prana.

Why does this drainage of prana through muscular contraction occur? The reason is simple. When you think something, the body automatically prepares itself to transfer the thought into action. The brain and body are two parts of the same unit; they are not separate.

For example: after a hard and particularly tense day at work a man returns home, feeling angry and looking for a way to relieve his frustrations. As a result, he may become angry with a dog for no apparent reason, but just as he begins to walk towards the dog to kick it, an inner order from the brain centres warns him that the dog will bite. This causes indecision and the muscles remain in a state of tension, ready for action. This kind of emotion, with or without translation into physical action, results in dissipation and wastage of prana. The result is chronic fatigue.

For many people these emotional disturbances and their corresponding detrimental physical effects are a regular part of life. People are continually feeling anger, fear, jealousy, etc., which makes them perpetually tense in mind and body and ultimately leads to disease, either physically or mentally or both.

With certain emotiona lresponses, adrenalin is automatically injected into the blood stream from the adrenal glands. It is an instinctive mechanism which prepares the body for maximum efficiency and readiness during emergencies. The adrenalin causes contraction of the muscles, constriction of blood vessels, increases the heart and respiratory rates, speeds up the thought processes and so on – all the things that are necessary to resist danger.

As is to be expected, its continual presence in the bloodstream leads to continuous muscular general body and mental tension. It is impossible to relax with adrenalin being continually pumped into the blood. This adrenalin response system is absolutely necessary, but only during emergencies.

An example would be if a car suddenly and unexpectedly appeared around a blind corner where you were walking. It is the adrenalin which is almost instantly released into the blood, which makes you afraid and jump to the side of the road to avoid injury. But its use is only intended for emergency situations. In the fast modern world of today this emergency response system is abused, for most people view every situation in life as a crisis. They are continually tense and on their guard. The adrenalin is pumped into the bloodstream almost as fast as it can be manufactured. How is it possible for them to relax? The whole endocrine system is forced to operate at a high level, to cope with the corresponding high level of body functioning.

As a body becomes weaker through tension, it simultaneously becomes less and less able to face the onset of bacterial infection. When a body is strong and healthy, it has a very powerful autotherapeutic strength to resist bacteriological disease. This power is weakened in a body that is unhealthy or tension ridden. The body becomes a target for the onset of disease. The body is like any other machine, even though it is infinitely more complex. If it is misused or made to work abnormally it starts to develop faults. These are in the form of arthritis, heart trouble, constipation, diabetes, asthma, etc. These ailments are so prevalent today, even children of just a few years of age are starting to manifest disease symptoms.

Removal of most ailments, their prevention, a happy life and a flight into higher consciousness is impossible unless we can learn to completely relax. Easier said than done you might say. Well, to be permanently relaxed takes time and effort. Permanent relaxation is a very advanced state of yoga called sahaja samadhi, spontaneous and natural equanimity which automatically implies higher consciousness. But systematic relaxation for a few minutes when one feels tired can be easily carried out. The tranquillity that you gain will give you a new, more relaxed platform from which to continue your daily life, even if this sense of well being only lasts for a few hours.

Published in Yoga & Kriya