Thoughts take form in action, and actions react upon the mind. These two
truths stand together. One is as true as the other. We have heard much of the
influence of the mind over the body, but we must not forget that the body, or
its attitudes and positions, react upon the mind and influence mental states.
We must remember these two truths in considering the question of relaxation.
Much of the harmful and foolish practices and habits of muscular contraction
are caused by mental states taking form in physical action. And, on the other
hand, many of our mental states have been produced Or encouraged by habits of
physical carelessness, etc. When we are angry the emotion is apt to manifest
in our clenching the fist. And, on the other hand, if we cultivate the habit
of clenching the fists, frowning, drawing together the lips and assuming a
scowl, we will be very apt to get the mind into such a condition that the
least thing will plunge it into a spell of anger. You all know of the
experiment of forcing a smile to the lips and eyes and maintaining it for a
while, which generally results in making you feel
after a few minutes.
One of the first steps toward preventing the harmful practices of muscular
contraction, with its resulting waste of prana and wearing out of the nerves,
is to cultivate a mental attitude of calm and repose. This may be done, but it
will be hard work at first; but you will be well repaid for your trouble in
the end. Mental poise and repose may be brought about by the eradication of
Worry and Anger. Of Course, Fear really underlies both Worry and Anger, but as
we are perhaps more familiar with the idea of Worry and Anger as being
elementary mental states, we will so treat them. The Yogi trains himself from
youth to eradicate or inhibit both of these emotions, and the result is that
after he has developed his full powers he is absolutely serene and calm and
presents the appearance of power and strength. He creates the same impression
that is conveyed by the mountain, the sea, or other manifestations of
restrained force. One in his presence feels that here is indeed great strength
and power in perfect repose. The Yogi considers Anger an unworthy emotion,
natural in the lower animals and in savage man but totally out of place in the
developed man. He considers it a sort of temporary insanity and pities the man
who loses his self-control sufficiently to fly into a rage. He knows that
nothing is accomplished by it, and that it is a useless waste of energy and a
positive injury to the brain and nervous system, besides being a weakening
element in one's moral nature and spiritual growth. This does not mean that
the Yogi is a timid creature without any "backbone." On the
contrary, he does not know the existence of Fear, and his calmness is
instinctively felt to be the indication of strength, not weakness. Have you
ever noticed that the men of the greatest strength are almost invariably free
from bluster and threats; they leave that for those who are weak and wish to
be thought strong. The Yogi also has eradicated Worry from his mental
condition. He has learned to know that it is a foolish waste of energy, which
results in no good and always works harm. He believes in earnest thought when
problems have to be solved, obstacles surmounted, but he never descends to
Worry. He regards Worry as waste energy and motion, and also as being unworthy
of a developed man. He knows his own nature and powers too well to allow
himself to worry. He has gradually emancipated himself from its curse and
teaches his students that the freeing of oneself from Anger and Worry is the
first step in practical Yoga.
While the controlling of the unworthy emotions of the lower nature really form
a part of other branches of the Yogi philosophy, it has a direct bearing upon
the question of Relaxation, inasmuch as it is a fact that one habitually free
from Anger and Worry is correspondingly free from the principal causes of
involuntary muscular contraction and nerve-waste. The man possessed by Anger
has muscles on the strain from chronic involuntary impulses from the brain.
The man who is wrapped in the folds of Worry is constantly in a state of
nervous strain and muscular contraction. So it will readily be seen that when
one cuts himself loose from these weakening emotions he at the same time frees
himself from the greater part of the muscular contraction, of which we have
spoken. If you would be free from this great source of waste, manage to get
rid of the emotions causing it.
And, on the other hand, the practice of relaxing—of avoiding the tense
condition of the muscles, in everyday life—will react upon the mind, and
will enable it to regain its normal poise and repose. It is a rule that works
One of the first lessons in physical relaxation the Hatha Yogis give to their
pupils is given in the next paragraph. Before beginning, however, we wish to
impress upon the mind of the student the keynote of the Yogi practice of
Relaxation. It consists of two words: "LET GO." If you master the
meaning of these two words and are able to put them into practice you have
grasped the secret of the Yogi theory and practice of Relaxation.
The following is a favorite Yogi exercise in Relaxation: Lie down flat on the
back. Relax as thoroughly as you can, letting go of all the muscles. Then,
still relaxed, let your mind wander over the body from the head down to the
toes. In doing this you will find that here and there are certain muscles
still in a tense condition-let go of them. If you do this thoroughly (yon will
improve by practice) you will end by having every muscle in the body fully
relaxed and the nerves at rest. Take a few deep breaths, lying quietly and
fully relaxed. You may vary this exercise by gently rolling over to one side,
and again relaxing completely. Then roll over to the other side and relax
completely. This is not as easy as it appears at first reaching, as you will
realize from a few trials. But do not he discouraged. Try it again until you
master the "knack." While lying relaxed carry in your mind that you
are lying on a soft, downy couch and that your body and limbs are as heavy as
lead. Repeat the words several times, slowly: "Heavy as lead, heavy as
lead," at the same time lifting the arms and then withdrawing the prana
from them by ceasing to contract the muscles, and allowing them to drop of
their own weight to the sides. This is a hard thing for most persons to do at
first trial. They are unable to let their arms drop of their own weight, so
firmly has the habit of involuntary muscular contraction fastened itself upon
them. After you have mastered the arms try the legs, one at a time, then both
together. Let them drop of their own weight and remain perfectly relaxed. Rest
between trials and do not be strenuous in the exercise, as the idea is to rest
yourself, as well as to acquire the control over the muscles. Then lift the
head and allow it to drop in the same way. Then lie still and form the mental
image of the couch, or floor, bearing the entire weight of the body. You may
laugh at this idea, believing that when you lie down you always let the couch
bear all of your weight, but you are mistaken. You will find that, in spite of
yourself, you are endeavoring to support a part of your weight by tensing some
of the muscles-you are trying to hold yourself up. Stop this and let the couch
attend' to this work for you. You are as foolish as was the old woman who sat
on the edge of the car-seat and tried to help the train along. Take the
sleeping child for your model. It allows its entire weight to rest on the bed.
If you doubt this look at the bed upon which a child has been sleeping and see
the "dents" in it-the impress of its little body. If you find it
difficult to catch the knack of this complete relaxation it may help you to
carry the mental image of being as "limp" as a wet cloth—limp all
over from head to foot—lying loose and limp, without a trace of stiffness. A
little practice will soon work wonders with you, and you will arise from this
"resting exercise" much refreshed and feeling able to do your work
There are also a number of other exercises in Relaxation taught and practiced
by the Hatha Yogis, the following being among the best of what are known to
the Yogis by the term (free translation) "Loosen-up exercises:
A Few "Loosen-Up" Exercises.
(1) Withdraw all prana from the hand, letting the muscles relax so that the
hand will swing loosely from the wrist, apparently lifeless. Shake it backward
and forwards from the wrist. Then try the other hand the same way. Then both
hands together. A little practice will give you the correct idea.
(2) This is more difficult than the first exercise. It consists in making the
fingers limp and relaxed and swinging them loosely from the knuckles. Try
first one hand and then the other, then both.
(3) Withdraw all prana from the arms and let them hang limp and loose by the
sides. Then swing the body from side to side, letting the arms swing (like
empty coat-sleeves) from the motion of the body, making no effort of the arms
themselves. First one arm and then the other, and then both. This exercise may
be varied by twisting the body around in various ways, letting the arms swing
loose. You will get the idea if you will think of loose coat-sleeves.
(4) Relax the forearm, letting it swing loose from the elbow. Impart a motion
from the upper-arm, but avoid contracting the muscles of the forearm. Shake
the forearm around limp and loose. First one arm, then the other, then both.
(5) Let the foot be completely relaxed and swung loose from the ankle. This
will require some little practice, as the muscles moving the foot are
generally in a more or less contracted condition. But baby's foot is loose
enough when he is not using it. First one foot, then the other.
(6) Relax the leg, withdrawing all prana from it and letting it swing loose
and limp from the knee. Then swing it and shake it. First one leg and then the
(7) Stand on a cushion, stool or large book and let one leg swing loose and
limp from the thigh, after having relaxed it completely. First one leg and
then the other.
(8) Raise the arms straight above the head, and then, withdrawing all prana
from them, let them drop of their own weight to the sides.
(9) Lift the knee up in front as high as you can and then draw all prana from
it and let it drop back of its own weight.
(10) Relax the head, letting it drop forward, and then swing it about by the
motion of the body. Then, sitting back in a chair, relax it and let it drop
backward. It will, of course, drop in any direction the moment you withdraw
the prana from it. To get the right idea, think of a person falling asleep,
who, the moment sleep overpowers him, relaxes and stops contracting the
muscles of the neck, allowing the head to drop forward.
(11) Relax the muscles of the shoulders and chest, allowing the upper part of
the chest to fall forward loose and limp.
(12) Sit in a chair and relax the muscles of the waist, which will allow the
upper part of the body to pitch forward like that of a child who falls asleep
in its chair and gradually falls out.
(13) One who has mastered these exercises so far may, if he sees fit, relax
his whole body, commencing with the neck, until he gets down to the knees,
when he will drop gently to the floor "all in a heap." This is a
valuable acquirement, as in case of one slipping or falling by accident. The
practice of this entire body relaxation will do much to protect them from
injury. You will notice that a young child will relax in this way when it
falls, and is scarcely affected by severe falls which would seriously bruise
adults, or even break their limbs. The same phenomenon may be noticed in the
cases of intoxicated persons who have lost control of the muscles and are in
an almost complete state of relaxation. When they fall they come down
"all in a heap" and suffer comparatively little injury.
In practicing these exercises repeat each of them several times and then pass
on to the next one. These exercises may be almost indefinitely extended and
varied, according to the ingenuity and power of invention of the student. Make
your own exercises, if you will, using the above as suggestions.
Practicing relaxation exercises, gives one a consciousness of self-control and
repose, which is valuable. Strength in repose
is the idea to be carried
in the mind when thinking of the Yogi Relaxation theories. It is useful in
quieting overwrought nerves; is an antidote for what is known as
"muscle-bound" conditions resulting from the employment of certain
sets of muscles in one's daily work or exercise, and is a valuable acquirement
in the direction of allowing one to rest himself at will and to thus regain
his vitality in the shortest possible time. The Oriental people understand the
science of relaxation and employ it in their daily life.
They will undertake journeys which would frighten a Western man, and after
traveling many miles will make a resting place, upon which they will throw
themselves down, relaxing every muscle and withdrawing the prana from all the
voluntary muscles, allowing themselves to remain limp and apparently lifeless
from head to foot. They indulge in a doze at the same time, if practicable,
but if not they remain wide awake, with senses active and alert, but with the
bodily muscles as above stated. One hour of this rest refreshes them as much,
or more, than a night's sleep does the average man. They start on their
journey again, refreshed and with new life and energy. Nearly all the
wandering races and tribes have acquired this knowledge. It seems to have been
intuitively acquired by the American Indian, the Arab, the savage tribes of
Africa, and, in fact, races in all parts of the world. Civilized man has
allowed this gift to lapse, because he has ceased to make the long journeys on
foot, but it would be well for him to regain this lost knowledge and to use
same to relieve the fatigue and nerve-exhaustion of the strenuous business
life, which has taken the place of the old wandering life, with all its
"Stretching" is another method of resting employed by the Yogis. At
first sight this will seem to be the reverse of relaxation, but it is really
akin to it, inasmuch as it withdraws the tension from the muscles which have
been habitually contracted, and sends the prana through them to all parts of
the system, equalizing pranic conditions to the benefit of all the parts of
the body. Nature impels us to yawn and stretch when we are fatigued. Let us
take a lesson from her book. Let us learn to stretch at will as well as
inv6luntarily. This is not so easy as you may imagine and you will have to
practice somewhat before you get the full benefit from it.
Take up the Relaxation exercises in the order in which they are given in this
chapter, but instead of relaxing each part in turn simply stretch them. Begin
with the feet, and then work up to the legs, and then up to the arms and head.
Stretch in all sorts of ways, twisting your legs, feet, arms, hands, head and
body around in a way you feel like to get the full benefit of the stretch.
Don't be afraid of yawning, either; that is simply one form of stretch. In
stretching you will, of' course, tense and contract muscles, but the rest and
relief comes in the subsequent relaxation of them. Carry in your mind the
"let-go" idea, rather than that of muscular exertion. We cannot
attempt to give exercises in stretching, as the variety open to the student is
so great that he should not require to have illustrations given him. Just let
him give way to the mental idea of a good, restful stretch, and Nature will
tell him what to do. Here is one general suggestion, however: Stand on the
floor, with your legs spread apart and your arms extended over your head, also
spread apart. Then raise yourself on your toes and stretch yourself out
gradually as if you were trying to reach the ceiling. A most simple exercise,
but wonderfully refreshing.
A variation of stretching may be effected by "shaking" yourself
around lose and limp, employing as many parts of your body as you can. The
Newfoundland dog, shaking the water from his skin when he emerges from the
water, will give you a general idea of what we mean.
All of these plans of relaxing, if properly entered into and carried out~ will
leave the one practicing them with a sense of renewed energy and an
inclination to again resume work, the same feeling as one experiences after
arising from a healthy sleep and a subsequent good rubdown in the bath.
Mental Relaxation Exercise.
Perhaps it will be as well for us to give an exercise in Mental Relaxation
before we conclude this chapter. Of course, physical relaxation reacts on the
mind and rests it. But Mental Relaxation also reacts upon the body and rests
it. So this exercise may reach the needs of some who have not found just what
they required in the preceding pages of this chapter.
Sit quietly in a relaxed and easy position and withdraw the mind as far as
possible from outside objects arid from thoughts which require active mental
effort. let your thought reach inward and dwell upon the real self. Think of
yourself as independent of the body and as able to leave it without impairing
the individuality. You will gradually experience a feeling of blissful rest
and calm and content. The attention must be withdrawn entirely from the
physical body and centered entirely upon the higher "I," which is
really "you." Think of the vast worlds around us, the millions of
suns, each surrounded with its group of planets like our earth, only in many
cases much larger. 'Get an idea of the immensity of space and of time;
consider the extent of Life in all its forms in all these worlds and then
realize the position of the earth and of yourself a mere insect upon a speck
of dirt. Then rise upward in your thought and realize that, though you be but
an atom of the mighty whole, you are still a bit of Life itself, a particle of
the Spirit; that you are immortal, eternal and indestructible; a necessary
part of the Whole, a part which the Whole cannot get along without, a piece
needed to fit into the structure of the Whole. Recognize yourself as in touch
with all of Life; feel the Life of the Whole throbbing through you; the whole
ocean of Life rocking you on its bosom. And then awake and return to your
physical life and you will find that your body is refreshed, your mind calm
and strong, and you will feel an inclination to do that piece of work which
you have been putting off for so long. You have profited and been strengthened
by your trip into the upper regions of the mind.
A Moment's Rest.
A favorite Yogi plan for snatching a moment's rest from the task of the
hour-taking rest "on the fly," as one of our young friends recently
expressed it—is as follows:
Stand up straight, with head erect and shoulders thrown back, your arms
hanging loosely by your sides. Then raise your heels slowly from the ground,
gradually throwing your weight upon the balls of the feet, and at the same
time raising your arms up by your sides until they stand out from your
shoulders like the outstretched wings of an eagle. Take a deep breath as the
weight falls upon the balls of the feet and as the arms spread out and you
will feel like flying. Then expel the breath slowly and gradually sink back
upon the heels and let the arms sink to their first position. Repeat if you
like the sensation. The rising and extending of the arms will impart a feeling
of buoyancy and freedom that must be experienced to be realized.