Deep Body Relaxation
I used to teach Yoga, relaxation, and meditation classes in the late 1970s in NYC to make a living. After the Hatha Yoga sequence was done, students were led through a guided deep body relaxation in Shava Asana (the corpse pose where everyone lies down and relaxes each part of the body). After teaching Yoga for many years, it seemed to me that for most students, the guided meditation while lying down was absolutely the most favorite part of the class. Many students would continue in the Shava Asana for half an hour or more after the class was over. Some became so relaxed that they would fall asleep.
Over the years, I have come to feel that the best posture for meditation is not always the Lotus posture as many Yoga traditions claim, but simply lying down in Shava Asana. The sleeping posture is universal and sets no high bar for anyone to have to overcome. Therefore, it is the perfect posture for attaining Self-Realization. In fact, we know that the Sage of Arunachala, Sri Ramana Maharshi, became Self-Realized in that posture.
Deep body relaxation can be mastered by anyone slowly and many people experience physical, mental, and spiritual benefits from it. I have personally found it to be immensely useful in a variety of ways. My own experience of the Heart, Oneness of Being, came when I was very young. I had been meditating for many hours, sitting straight in a cross-legged position, and my back was aching and so tired that I lay down to rest for a few minutes. I was not trying to relax but it was in that resting posture that this deep conscious relaxation came over me and the truth of being revealed itself with complete clarity.
The Relaxation Method
The relaxation method I use is easy. I simply bring attention to every part of the body and consciously experience it and relax it. I start with each individual toe on both feet and relax these. I also focus on the bottom of the feet and relax these. Then I focus on the upper feet and relax these. Then I come to the ankles and relax these and keep moving up to the legs and other parts of the body and so on.
Sometimes, in my teaching, I have combined this method with visualization of white light filling the different parts of the body from the head to the toes. This is a beautiful way to use the intelligence and imaginative and visual faculty of the mind to fill the body with deep relaxation and to create a sanctuary of peace for one self.
Of course, Hatha Yoga is important for many people and sitting in meditation with a straight spine has its own health and energy oriented benefits. Meditation on energy centers along the spine is facilitated by sitting straight in a cross-legged posture. It also helps in doing certain pranayama and deep breathing exercises.
For many people who cannot sit cross- legged, sitting straight on a chair with support for the elbows is helpful. There are many ways to meditate. The main thing is that one should be comfortable in one’s posture.
Sincere Practice Leads to Self-Discovery
One, who is serious about meditation and relaxation and practices it with sincerity, slowly discovers what postures and exercises are the most helpful for her/his body and mind. Each person is unique in terms of what they find useful.
Finding a good yoga teacher is much easier today than it was when I was teaching. Back in the 1970s, in the U.S. and other Western countries, Yoga was popular only in big cities like Manhattan and Los Angles among the actors and actresses and the elite. But now it has become more mainstream and one can find Yoga classes in virtually any city.
Deep body relaxation seems to be universally attractive to people, because it allows for letting go of accumulated tension. It is easy to learn and do and with practice and experience becomes natural.