Deep Relaxation - Setting the Stage
The practice of deep relaxation is just that - a practice. So, it's ok if you think you're not that good at it: if you fall asleep within minutes of lying down, or your mind starts racing the quieter it gets. Through consistent practice, over time, the more adept you will become, and you will begin to experience deep relaxation as a powerful tool for managing stress in your life.
Deep relaxation is a process with a step-by-step sequence of moving through the layers of our being, from the outer-most physical layer to the inner-most place of peace and harmony. The step-by-step process guides us in letting go of effort, tension, holding, or resistance.
Setting the stage for deep relaxation takes time and trust. We surrender to a vulnerable place when we let go of efforts that, in the past, have defined us.
The first step in the process is determining when and where to practice. Finding a consistent time each day helps make it a habit. Designating a particular place for practice takes this decision-making out of your daily routine, which, for some, can be an obstacle. Turn OFF your cell phone and leave it in another room. Turn off anything that can distract you from your practice.
Next, make sure you are warm enough. Body temperature drops as you settle into stillness in this practice. We need to be warm in order to let go into deep relaxation. When we are cold, the body continues to produce adrenaline - this is what makes us shiver and stimulates our fight-or-flight nervous system. In deep relaxation, the fight-or-flight nervous system quiets, and the rest-and-digest nervous system becomes active. Put on socks, a sweater, some folks like a hat or a wrap around their head for warmth and darkness, though this doesn’t work for everyone. Do whatever makes you feel warm, comforted, safe and secure - that is the point of the practice.
The next step is establishing a steady, comfortable pose. This is one of the basic tenets of yoga postures, and Savasana, or corpse pose, is the perfect place to experiment with how to make yourself steady and comfortable.
Here are a few recommendations:
Set yourself up on a firm surface - preferably not a bed, as you’re more likely to fall asleep here. In deep relaxation, we are in a state of conscious awareness in which the body is reunited with the breath and mind. A bed or a chair, however, may be more accessible than the floor, and therefore, the perfect place to practice.
If you are comfortable coming down to the floor, designate your space with a mat, towel, or blanket. If you are comfortable lying on your back (no injuries or other contraindications for lying in a supine position), this may be all that you need. Some people like to put a rolled towel, blanket or bolster under their knees. Softening the knees in this way will take the natural arch out of the lumbar (lower) spine, making you more comfortable lying on your back.
Allow the arms to rest slightly away from the sides of the torso with the palms turned up - open, receptive, empty.
Check that the head is comfortably supported by the floor. If the chin juts up toward the ceiling, add a folder blanket to lift the occiput (the bone at the back of the head). This allows the brow, neck and throat to soften.
Cover yourself with a blanket entirely, or place a folded blanket over the abdomen/pelvis area for warmth and a sense of security.
If you are not comfortable lying on the back, or are pregnant and beyond the early weeks, lie on one side. In side-lying position, place a blanket underneath the torso to support and cushion you against the floor. Leave a gap for your bottom arm and shoulder, and place blankets or pillows to adequately support the head so the cervical (neck) spine remains aligned. Bend the top knee and use plenty of pillows to adequately support the thigh, knee, calf, ankle and foot. If your foot hangs off the pillow, the sciatic nerve that branches out from the sacrum and runs down the leg to the sole of the foot can be aggravated. Use another pillow to support the top arm, hugging it in toward the chest. Cover yourself with a blanket for warmth.
Experiment with any other props (pillows, blankets, towels, bolsters) that add to your steadiness and comfort in your posture for deep relaxation. One of my teachers would often say that savasana, which translates as corpse pose, was a place where we could practice dying everyday.
This is your set-up for deep relaxation. Once you are comfortable, listen to the 20 minute Guided Deep Relaxation. Just make sure you can reach the button to press play!