Learning to bring deep relaxation to the physical body was one of the best investments I have ever made. Relaxing the body’s muscles, soft tissue webbing and organs (and I swear it feels like bones, too!) simply feels amazing. There are a number of benefits associated with this, from increased sleep quality; to the whole cascade of rejuvenating processes associated the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system branch of the autonomic nervous system (relaxation response), to other neural and neuromuscular benefits.
Being able to relax physically (with mental and emotional relaxation happening too, sometimes..) is a body skill, and can be cultivated – with disciplined practice. What I observed in my own body, and by watching others, is that often when people talk about relaxing, they do drop the tension levels in their bodies – but it’s from a very high to a medium-high level – they don’t actually deeply relax, IMHO (looking at body signs and breathing patterns), as they don’t actually have the experience of what being deeply related physically feels like.
Relaxation training, post the initial ‘irritation/agitation’ phase of learning, simply feels amazing. It’s also a more or less free form of very powerful health promotion and disease prevention; especially stress related illness, of which the list of associated conditions is constantly growing. The experiential dimension is so different and so much better than reading about the interesting anatomy and physiology of the responses in the books (which I also like to do). But you have to do it; you have to practice.
The practice that helped me the most with sleep quality was the fantastic yoga nidra practice. Before I learned this practice (in the short running Deep Well Being class, taught by Kit Laughlin in Canberra circa 2007), I would wake up between 3 – 10 times a night on average – often not able to get back to sleep for a long time. The two most useful things, in terms of sleep quality, that the practice taught me were: deep physical relaxation and to change my perceptions of hearing ‘noises’ to hearing ‘sounds’.
The process of rotating awareness between different environmental sounds, whilst in a profoundly relaxed state; focusing on each sound individually, but not labeling them mentally (thus creating ‘noise’ – and all the irritation, thinking, tension and sympathetic nervous system stuff that goes with that) – was critical to my sleep improving.
Sleep enhancement is such a great health aid, on so many levels; with memory improvement, immune and hormonal system benefits being just the beginning. Good sleep obviously helps you optimize the physical training you do, too.
Kit has kindly put up a number of lying relaxation (yoga nidra) practices as follow along audio files, HERE. Kit is quite the ‘gear head’ with camera and audio technology, and his latest top-of-the-line audio recorder looks like it fell out of a passing UFO!
Now go practice!