Question: I have an extremely difficult time relaxing in any yoga class. I just seem to be very tense. It seems to be a subconscious thing. How can I let go and relax better during yoga? Deirdre
Hey there, brother! Especially when first developing a yoga practice, it’s often very difficult for people to settle in to the type of relaxation you’re talking about. In fact, I think that the portrayal of what yoga is and what it should be puts a lot of pressure on the people who want to give it a try. It’s almost as if enlightenment and utmost repose is supposed to be cultivated the moment you step on your mat.
Let me tell you, I don’t even think that’s possible. However, simple, let’s-unwind-after-much-too-much-time-at-my-work-desk peacefulness is very possible for everyone, and it’s all really easy to do.
First, always start each yoga practice with an intent. Many yoga instructors offer time in the beginning of class to cultivate an intention for moving and breathing that day, but even if they don’t, or if you’re practicing on your own, it’s very important to do so. Practicing with a specific “goal” in mind allows us to create our own mantra to think about. Your intent can be anything from, “I want to focus on where my body needs the most love,” to “I want to be able to touch my toes by the end of the month.” Everyone works differently, but creating this target gives us something real to dedicate our breath and movement to.
And that brings me to the best relaxation tool: BREATH! Have you ever noticed in times that you are angry or upset or hurt you tend to hold your breath? You’re keeping oxygen from going to your brain and other parts of your body that need it, which doesn’t sound too pretty does it? Breath is the greatest life force that we embody everyday, but due to its involuntary nature, very often forget it’s there- especially when we’re moving our bodies. There was certainly a time in my yoga practice in which I never breathed. In fact, I still catch myself forgetting to inhale and exhale. How silly does that sound? That breath should always be a part of us, especially when we’re moving our bodies.
Take a deep breath now. Start from very empty and slowly, slowly begin to draw your breath in. Feel your ribs expand. Enjoy the sensation of that sweet, sweet air filling up your lungs and your belly and your heart and your head. Pause when you can’t inhale any more. Then slowly, even more slowly than you inhaled, exhale and let the breath swirl out of your body. Allow that exhale to massage your brain and all of your other organs, and imagine all the stress and discomfort that hold in your body to swim right into the universe.
Ah, doesn’t that feel good? Now, imagine each and every one of your breaths doing exactly what that one did. Sound impossible? It’s not. All of your breaths should be full and deep and filled with intent. Really pay attention to the quality of breath that you take, on your mat and every other time, and letting go will be so much easier.
As I mentioned, these tools are useful everywhere-not just in the yoga room! Make intentions for everything you do. Take the time to really enjoy each breath. These things are simple and don’t only help us de-stress, they help us to be super appreciative. Remember to share them with the people around you- being surrounded by others who are also free of stress makes everything much, much sweeter.