Rest – the 4th Pillar of Yoga

Rest – Relaxing is equally important for the whole of us (body, mind, and energy). Sleep is one form of rest, but to keep a healthy body and mind we need to meditate/relax too. It’s very clear from science to reduce all types of illness and stress. The moral value of being lazy if we rest, in combo with a hyperactive society, creates an overload of stress and in the long run a higher risk of disease. A relaxed body and mind really lives, a stressed one is barely alive but doesn’t live. Stress in this sense is not the same as having many things to do or a rich life. Many thrive when they are busy, and boredom can be equally stressful. Yoga teaches all of us to rest in a healthy way by stretching muscles to relaxation, followed with sitting in stillness; meditation. Rest can be done in other ways too. Find yours.

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Meditation has been done for as long as we have existed (as long as evolution.) Look at animals and how they spend a lot of time in stillness and silence. It’s as healthy for us as it is for them. With the beginning of civilisations and writing, long before the great invention of vehicles, phones, internet, and other modern triggers of stress, the Rishis (sages or seers) and Yogis of yore devised very powerful techniques of deep relaxation. All religions have some form of ‘relaxation’ during or before prayer. It’s the best way to centre oneself and feel connected to oneself and the environment.

Many modern stress-management and relaxation methods borrow extensively from these traditions. Today we know that by deeply relaxing all the muscles the Yogi can thoroughly rejuvenate the nervous system and the organs and attain a deep sense of inner peace. It’s one of the most efficient ways to reverse disease, any disease it seems, and rejuvenate. Studies have shown that by simply meditating 30 minutes a day organs stop ageing, and even rejuvenate.

When the body and the mind are constantly overworked, their natural efficiency to perform work diminishes. Modern social life, such as dinners in large groups, work events, and even entertainment such as video games and clubbing, makes it difficult for modern people to relax. Many have even forgotten how to relax, and when disease knocks them out they have to take expensive courses to learn something we have always done as natural beings. Rest and relaxation are nature’s way of recharging. We even see that while trying to rest, many expend a lot of physical and mental energy through pushing themselves into a specific form of relaxation and when they can’t relax in that particular way or form, for example to still the voice in their heads, they beat themselves up for not being able to relax in the “right” way, and the vicious circle is created with even more stress to follow. Much of the body and mind’s energy is wasted uselessly while trying. We say that there is nothing to try and there are no forms. We either relax or we don’t, just as we do yoga or we don’t, we sleep or we don’t, we run or we don’t. Start relaxing your muscles and the rest of the body follows. If the mind is active engage in the conversation and figure things out, or just listen to it and sooner or later it stops talking.

More of our energy is spent in keeping the muscles in continual readiness for work or order than in getting the actual work done. Multi-tasking is the contrary to good performance. It’s a terrible invention and any good manager knows that performance is lower when their staff is stressed. Many great minds like Einstein or Edison ensured the importance of the rest or meditation for their work. Our own Ray at Olive Retreat did the same. When having very tight timeframes he would meditate on a task most of the time before doing it. Several studies ensure us that the concentration level and the performance is quicker and better when proceeded by a meditation.

Remembered that in the course of a the 24 h cycle, our body usually produces all the substances and energy necessary for the whole day. All these substances and energy may be wasted within a few minutes by severe  anger, sadness, disease or intense irritation that is much more likely to burst out by stressed people. That’s why we feel exhausted when physically ill or after bursts of mood swings. The process of eruption-repression of strong emotions often grows into a regular habit. The result is disastrous, not only for the body, but also for the mind. To still theses ups and downs we meditate/rest, we save “Prana”, or life force, and we stay physically and mentally healthy.

In order to achieve perfect relaxation, three methods are used in the Yoga tradition: “Physical”, “Mental”, and “Spiritual” relaxation. Relaxation is not complete until the person reaches that stage of spiritual relaxation, or Samadhi, which only advanced spiritual aspirants have experienced.

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1 – Physical Relaxation
Just as the mind may send a message to the body to act, like contracting a muscle, the mind may also send a message to bring the same muscles to relaxation. We can send messages, any message, to our organs as well as to the muscles.

Physical relaxation begins with the toes and then moves upward, like a Body Scan. It is like a mental massage of oneself, passes through the muscles and reaches the eyes and ears at the top, with the possibility to step into the body and also relax the organs. You can feel the lungs and the heart slow down, and the same happens with the kidneys and other internal organs. It’s the best form of treating IBS. The most common pose for this relaxation is Savasana, or the Corpse Pose. If you want to continue with Mental and Spiritual relaxation it’s easier to find a comfortable sitting pose as you otherwise lean on the spine and easily fall asleep, which is not the awakened and alert relaxation that meditation offers.

2 – Mental Relaxation
When experiencing mental tension, it is advisable to breathe slowly and rhythmically for a few minutes and relax your physical body. Soon the mind will become calm too, and the body follows. You may experience a kind of floating sensation. It’s best done sitting in lotus. If your hips or knees are stiff you might need to sit on a chair or on cushions until your knees are at the same level as the hips. Only then you can sit with a straight and relaxed spine. Mental relaxation is done with a totally relaxed body, easily achieved after physically stretching like in yoga, Pranayamas or after the exhaustion of running.

The mind is awake and very alert. It can either take in the environment by listening, smelling, tasting, feeling or looking, or it can stay within oneself by turning the awareness of one’s heart beat, breath or other sensations. These techniques are many and the most practiced are probably Zen meditation or TM meditation.

3 – Spiritual Relaxation
The Yoga (and the Buddhist) tradition explains that one may try to relax the mind, but all tension and worries cannot be completely removed until one reaches spiritual relaxation. This is a state of mind and goes beyond the time of practice. It is a state of mind that comes and goes, and hopefully stays longer and longer with the practice. Buddha finally reached a constant state of Spiritual Relaxation – Samadhi.

As long as a person identifies with the body and the mind, there will be worries, sorrows, anxieties, fear and anger.  These emotions, in turn bring tension. Krishnamurti’s famous quote “Identification is Violence” explains this. Yogis know that unless a person can withdraw from the materialisation/separation, or the body/mind idea, and separate himself from the ego-consciousness, there is no way of obtaining complete relaxation. This doesn’t mean that the Yogi or even the Buddha is never angry, it only means that the anger doesn’t have the Yogi, the Yogi has the anger. This is a huge difference. When we have the feelings/emotions/thoughts instead of them having us, we are free to act on them or not. The Yogi is not adverse to feeling, on the contrary we acknowledge and go into the feeling and let it pass. We don’t try to obstruct it. We feel it, accept it and take care of it. Many of the feelings that come to us can teach us a lot. To take action upon a feeling like anger, could be to start an NGO to stop the abuse that made us angry. To the contrary of what many think Spiritual Relaxations is not passive acceptance (to the verge of denial).

The Yogi identifies with everything in total, consciousness Oneness with great gratitude, and a sense of care and love. We know that the source of all power, knowledge, peace and strength is in the self, not in the materialism, or the body or the mind. We don’t identify with the achievements anymore and we don’t feel the kick of any materialism wether it is belongings, intellectual, or even spiritual materialism. We don’t even identify or even “own” our body or mind, but we are grateful to have been given those for a short time, to use as fantastic and loved “tools” for growth.

We tune into this Spiritual Relaxation by asserting the real nature of All. We become all like we become the sea and not the isolated drop in the sea, we become the light and not the single beam of light, etc. This Oneness or this identification with All has many names depending of the tradition and description; pure self, pure consciousness, enlightenment, one with the source… This is just language. This Spiritual relaxation is beyond language, just as it is beyond the mind or any form. This awareness of Oneness completes the process of relaxation.

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