Relaxing the mind is a great goal of Buddhist practice, but to do this you also need to relax your body. Sister Chan Khong teaches us a three-step practice to achieve a deep calm that can rival sleep. Illustrations by Carole Hénaff.
Having a spiritual practice does not mean that we only care about our minds. Body and mind are two faces of one reality and they support each other. Due to our lifestyle and consumption habits, stress accumulates in our body and undermines our well-being. By caring for our body and integrating moments of deep relaxation into everyday life, we reduce stress, fear and irritation and help to bring body and mind into harmony.
Sometimes our bodies need rest, but our minds still want to do many things. Although we think that we can overcome the needs of the body with our mind, we cannot do it forever. From time to time we need to pause, bring our awareness back into our body, and relax. Otherwise, tensions will build up and it is very easy for us to lose our temper and be unkind. When we are bothered by a strong emotion or feel like we’re burning out – that it’s all too much and we’re breaking down – this is the perfect moment for deep relaxation.
We use our mindfulness like a ray of light and bring relaxation to every part.
The practice of deep relaxation is based on a teaching called mindfulness of the body within the body (Kayagata-sati Sutta, Majjhima Nikaya 119) in which the Buddha advises us to visit every part of our body so that we know what is going on inside our body. In the same way that we practice being aware of every state of our mind – accepting, understanding and then letting go of every state that arises – we practice with our body in this way and visit each part with awareness, acceptance, care and without judgment.
A full deep relaxation session can last anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour. We use our mindfulness like a ray of light to scan our body and bring awareness and relaxation to each part.
1. Awareness of breath and earth
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides. You can sit on a chair if you want. Make yourself comfortable, close your eyes and relax. Start following your breath and be easy on the inhale and exhale. Feel the earth beneath you that supports you. Bring your attention to your stomach rising and falling. When you feel agitated or distracted, place your hand on your stomach and feel it rise and fall as the air flows in and out. Say quietly to yourself, “I breathe in with my inhalation. I exhale when I exhale. “
2. Body scan and gratitude
Continue to follow your breathing as you consciously and relax every part of your body from head to toe. You can start with the hair on your head, scalp, brain, forehead, etc. Say something to yourself about each part of your body: “I notice my eyes when I breathe in. Exhaling, I release the tension in all the small muscles around my eyes. “
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As you focus your attention on each part of your body, think about your gratitude. For example, we often forget our heart, but it beats day and night. Now is the chance to take care of our hearts and show our hearts that we appreciate them. Quietly say to yourself, “Inhaling, I turn my attention to my heart. When I breathe out, I am aware of my heart. “
3. Let yourself go into deep relaxation
Bring your attention back to your stomach rising and falling. You can enjoy a few minutes of soft or soft music. If during the session you feel like you are falling asleep, do not fight back. The sleep experienced during deep relaxation is short, but arousal-free, nourishing and healing. When the session is over, move your arms and legs, then open your eyes. Sit up gently. Stretch yourself a little. Stand up slowly. Take a moment to breathe and feel the sensations in your body.
If you have an intense day at work, school, or family activities and don’t have time for complete deep relaxation, divide your day into sections and relax between each section or activity. I myself take several short deep relaxation breaks every day. We think we can’t take a moment to rest, but just a few minutes of deep relaxation can renew us and bring body and mind back to calm and vitality.
Find a place to lie down where you won’t be disturbed. If there is not enough space, pull a chair near the wall, close your eyes, and stretch your legs. Relax your body and follow your breathing. Instead of doing the whole sequence, focus your attention on just a few of your body parts. The shoulders are often a good place to focus our attention: “When I breathe in, I am aware of my shoulders. Exhaling, I relax my shoulders and release the tension. ”After you have relaxed for a few minutes, you will come to your next activity refreshed and with more physical energy and mental clarity.
Deep relaxation can also help with sleep problems. Lie on your bed and feel your breathing. Put your hand on your stomach, feel it rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. You could easily say to yourself, “When I breathe in, I can feel the muscles in my face. When I breathe out, I let go of the muscles in my face ”, or simply:“ When I breathe in, I smile. Exhaling, I let go. ”A gentle smile relaxes the muscles in your face and helps calm your nervous system. That is loving-kindness directed to yourself. Even when you’re not sleeping, such rest can be almost as good as sleeping.
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