Relaxation Techniques and Meditation: The Crucial Connection

Learning to quiet the noise in the body through relaxation techniques greatly enhances our successful practice of meditation. By practicing the skills of dynamic relaxation, we learn to master stress and recognize and reduce unproductive tensions and anxieties in our lives.

By freeing ourselves from the burden of accumulated tensions and inner conflicts, we are better equipped to rest and renew ourselves, to think more clearly, keep stress from accumulating, increase our efficiency and productivity, and generally enhance our overall well-being.

Approached in this way, meditation techniques enable us to build the power and peace of mind needed to awaken insight and understanding. Awakening and embodying wisdom is the true goal of meditation. This awakening is necessary to consciously recognize and transform the harmful or unproductive patterns of our lives, and to consciously strengthen the mind's full potential for wisdom, love, power, and creative compassion.

As we develop a deeper understanding, our appreciation for the true nature and potential of ourselves and others grows; inner and outer conflicts diminish; and we become more joyful, creative, and effective in living life, helping others, and stewarding the world.

Dynamic Relaxation: Have Mercy

As we were about to enter into a long meditation retreat, we visited one of our special teachers. With intense and tender concern, he took us by the hand, looked deeply into our eyes and said, "If you wish to be successful in your meditation practice, the most important thing is to remember to stay relaxed! If you get tense and try too hard, it will only create problems."

Dynamic relaxation is a first step in opening to our wholeness, our full potential, and to the world. As you learn to relax and to release unnecessary tension, the physical vitality, mental clarity, calm, centered strength, and emotional well-being which are fundamental to the human spirit, will naturally and effortlessly arise.

The tensions we hold in our day-to-day lives are, in many cases, armoring reflective of our underlying anxieties and fears about not feeling safe or secure in the world.

When we knot our muscles, clench our teeth, or tie our guts in knots, it does little for us but cause pain, raise blood pressure, and create more noise in the nervous system. While this bracing accomplishes the unconscious task of dulling our sensitivity and shielding us from the intensity of life, it also exhausts, depletes, and weakens us. Such survival skills are not sustainable and, over time, the accumulating stress and strain will lead to many problems.

Relaxation is a means of ceasing to create pain for ourselves. Often the first strategy we teach people to relax is to actually increase the level of their tension! Why? Because when we realize that we can increase the tension -- say, take it from a "4" up to a "7" -- we recognize that we really are in control of, or at least can influence, the situation and our response to it. No one can make us tense, no matter how much blame we may want to project onto others.

If we can increase our tension, then it is also possible for us to release it, to relax from a "7" back down to a "4," and with practice down to a "3," "2," or even "zero."

As we gradually learn to recognize and reduce the habits that create noise in our bodies and minds, we learn to relax and open our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls to commune with creation in all its many dimensions.

Dynamic relaxation -- the state of optimal tension, free from unnecessary strain -- is a gesture of mercy and compassion toward ourselves. To make this step again and again takes courage -- the courage to look, listen, feel, and welcome life without running away, or constricting back into our shell of tension, or ignorance. At the sacred heart of the Islamic faith, the first words of worship are Bismillah Erachman, Erahim: "We begin in the name of Allah, the One who is Merciful and Compassionate." Taking this prayer to heart, we come to realize that this is where our work on ourselves must begin: to begin to open our hearts with greater mercy and compassion toward ourselves and others.

If you take the time to learn effective relaxation techniques, your meditation practice will be greatly deepened and enhanced.

[Adapted from the book "Luminous Mind" by Joel & Michelle Levey]

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