Thursday, July 09, 2009

A powerful relaxation technique: Shavasana

I. Introduction
My first exposure to yoga was in my fifth grade. I started going to yoga classes nearby in the morning. We first started with some basic stretching exercises.. Having warmed up, we sat down for breathing exercises including Anuloma-viloma, Bhastrika (Bellows breath), Kapalabhati (skull shining breath), etc. After that, we would do the Suryanamaskar(Salutations to the Sun exercises) and then take it easy for a while before getting onto asanas(Yogic postures). Towards the end of the asanas routine, we would do the shavasana or corpse-posture.
The idea is to make the body go limp or flaccid just like a corpse. Shavasana is one of the most peaceful relaxation techniques I have come across.
After a while, I stopped going to Yoga classes.
I was reintroduced to Shavasana when I was in my 10th grade by my maternal uncle, when I was prone to getting tense often. This technique helped me keep calm during those stressful years, where I had to focus well on my studies to get into a good college.

II. Shavasana Technique
Here's the technique I use(usually before going to sleep):

1) Lie down on your back or to your side (whichever is comfortable), preferably on a firm or not-very-elastic surface.
2) Close your eyes. Now, mentally relax each part of the body beginning at the feet and ending at the top of the body. The relaxation happens through suggestions in your mind to relax a part of the body. Once you practice this technique a few times, you can realize the relaxation that happens by this auto-suggestive process very tangibly.

Below, I give the exact details of how I go about doing my auto-suggestion for relaxation:
I begin with the right leg, then my left leg, then my upper body, then my neck, face and finally the head.
I try to go into as much detail(body parts) as possible. Here are the details:
i) Right leg:
a) I repeat in my mind, 'Relax the toes' and feel the toes becoming lax.
b) 'Relax the ankle joint' and feel the area around the ankle joint relax.
c) 'Relax the calf muscles' and feel it relaxing.
d) 'Relax the knee joint'.
e) 'Relax the right thigh muscles'.
f) 'Relax the right quadriceps'.

Similarly, I relax the different parts of my left leg.

ii) Groin through upper body:
a) 'Relax the groin'
b) 'Relax the small intestine'
c) 'Relax the large intestine'
d) 'Relax the pancreas'
e) 'Relax the liver, lungs'
f) 'Relax the heart'. The heart has four chambers. I go into those details too:
'Relax the left auricle', 'Relax the left ventricle', 'Relax the right auricle', 'Relax the right ventricle'.
g) 'Relax the bronchial tubes or the wind pipe'
h) 'Relax the esophagus or the food pipe'.
i) 'Relax the throat - Relax the larynx and the pharynx (voicebox)'.
j)'Relax the teeth and tounge'.

iii) Neck through top of the head
a) 'Relax the neck,cheeks'
b)'Relax the eyes, ears, eyebrows(!),forehead,nostrils,nose,ears'
c)'Relax the brain - Right and left hemispheres. Relax the cerebrum,cerebellum and medulla'.
d) Relax the skull.

This is one round of Shavasana for me. You can see just by looking at the details above, there are a lot of places to relax the body, a lot of places where small pockets of tension could be released just by imagining and suggesting that it be relaxed. By the end of one round of Shavasana, I am significantly more relaxed than before.
I use this technique on a day to day basis to get my body fully relaxed before going to sleep every night.
I have also used this method to effect in many situations and periods of my life to great effect.
This technique has been a saving grace to me through panic attacks(that I had for about a week in 2007) and Obsessive compulsive disorder( that I had during my highschool/college days,though I actually overcame OCD through mindfulness meditation).

Ofcourse, you don't need to have panic attacks and OCDs to realize the benefits of Shavasana.
The average person these days gets stressed out often. To realize that stress is an intrinsic mechanism and isn't strongly related to circumstances is a powerful thing to know. That you can be at peace irrespective of where you are, what situation you are in is a powerful thing to know.
Shavasana is one step towards that knowing. It can get your body relaxed quickly with practice.

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