In writing a paper for a course I’m on, the question arose how do we encourage students to relax within themselves whilst practicing yoga. Yes there are practices that involve relaxation, many Savasana (supine) type exercises, yes there’s the huffing and puffing breathing exercises, yes we as teachers extol students to let go of unnecessary tension while working in postures, but does any of it carry through into relaxing the mind - into relaxing the whole being? Isn’t the very desire to relax and the ‘effort‘ to relax a tension in it’s own right?
Tarthang Tulku writes in Kum Nye Yoga (2008): “In learning to relax we tend to think there is a goal, and that something must be done to achieve it. The tendency to make an effort is always in the back of our minds, and may become an obstacle to relaxation. Notice whether you come to rely on certain preparations. Try not to arrange anything within yourself - just be natural. There is not any specific thing you must do to relax. When you realise this you will relax more quickly.
The way to develop relaxation is is not to instruct yourself. When you become tied up in plans or explanations, you cannot find internal openness. The secret is just to be, without relying on instructions. This may not be easy. We are used to telling ourselves that there is a certain way to be or a certain way to do things. We may even attempt to manipulate ourselves into that mould. When we begin to relax without instructing ourselves there is usually the feeling that we ‘do not know how to do it’. As relaxation deepens, however, this feeling of unfamiliarity passes, and there is only allowing and continuing.”
He suggests we “...move beyond the mechanical level to the level of subtle energy, becoming fully open without holding back.”
He goes on to say “ Holding back is like continually waiting to be relaxed, expecting relaxation to come from somewhere else. There is a kind of fascinated expectation or inner dialogue - we speculate on success or failure and comment on our ‘progress’. In this way it is possible to spend many hours practicing without opening to the energies and relaxation within. ... During practice, do not be concerned with whether you need more experience or effort to make the exercise work. Simply open the feeling of relaxation as wide as possible.”
Of course he goes on to say it needs practice and refinement, but that any such practice should be done with an open ended attitude, and without worrying about results.