Being able to relax is meant to be the natural state of any human being. Unfortunately in our often very full lives, we can’t readily fall back into this natural state when needed; for some, even the cue ‘relax’, causes more tension than relief.

The inability to ‘relax’

You may have experienced that after a busy or intense period of time with work or other activities, you were wishing to be able to ‘sit down and relax’, or go to sleep in the hope of waking up refreshed. But your body felt tight, and the mind would simply not let go of the day’s events; this is not a good starting-point for relaxation. But here comes the paradox: ‘When wanting to relax, one has to begin by feeling fairly relaxed already’.

True, when you come home after a busy day, you will be able to relax to a certain degree by simply sitting down and ceasing your activities. But a state of deep relaxation is unlikely to occur spontaneously. Some people even find it difficult to relax in the midst of nature, such as being in a forest or meadow. Yoga practitioners long ago gained a good understanding of what is required to truly relax.

Free up blockages by practicing postures (asanas)

On first thought, it doesn’t seem helpful to embark on further activities when feeling the need to relax. But practicing yoga postures will do both, initially dispersing excess energy which has settled in the ‘wrong places’, i.e. accumulated tension in your body or in your mind; and secondly, gifting you energy you’re when feeling fatigued. Even after only a short practice, you will begin to feel more easy about any upset or worry you experienced earlier, and certainly more comfortable in your physical body. Both are a perfect starting point for true relaxation and/or a refreshing nights’ sleep.

Practicing asanas removes blockages in your organs, joints, and muscles, and allows energy to move freely throughout your whole body, making it feel good and also affecting you positively on an emotional level.

To get the desired effect there must be a healthy balance between active and passive/restorative postures in your practice. Choosing the correct number of stronger postures to get the energy in the body flowing freely, must be followed by reclining postures and most importantly inversions (upside down postures). Inversions capture and retain the precious prana – life force – in your body, and are truly calming. So it is well worth spending a good amount of time upside-down!

How often and when do I need to practice to feel the effects of relaxation?

Obviously if you practice several times a week, you will develop the skill to remain relaxed in any situation much more easily. Many of our early morning practitioners who typically come in 3-6 times a week are experiencing those benefits profoundly. Also the regular practitioners who join us mostly at nighttime, report amazingly good sleeps after yoga. This can begin happening when practicing only once or twice a week. Over time you acquire the knowledge and skill to negotiate challenging situations, and remain calm and relaxed.

The key to true relaxation – the breath

The wonderful and magical effects of our yoga practice are due to the wise use of our breath. Long exhalations greatly calm us, also simply breathing deeply into the chest is very soothing and equally invigorating. Once our body is more comfortable after practicing postures, we can focus on our breathing more easily and true relaxation can take place. In the yogic meditation to follow, we address all our senses and direct their awareness inward. By assigning them given internal focus points, we remove focus from external stimuli.

It’s interesting to note that exposing our senses to excessive stimuli and equally, the lack of any engagement of the senses, leads to their becoming dull and numbed. Imagine walking on a highway for 1 km as opposed to 1 km through a forest. In the forest you would be perceiving all the different smells, colours, shades of light, and wild life, and negotiating roots, plants, and sticks, Our senses are ‘healthily’ engaged rather than being over or under-stimulated, and you’ll feel refreshed after your walk.

Equally in our yoga practice we listen, feel, and look – using the breath, bandhas (muscle seals), and dristi (gazing points). The senses are engaged steadily and continuously focus on one singular object. The mind can come to a state of concentration and consequently, a sense of true relaxation can be felt. This is the best starting point for letting go, to simply ‘be’, to feel calm, and rejuvenated.

Yoga does it all in one! You lengthen and deepen your breath, which is very calming, cleansing, and invigorating; you move your body in various ways to optimize mobility. You stretch and strengthen all body parts, creating the wondrous sensation of feeling good in your own skin. You sit and direct your complete awareness inwards, to come to a point of profound stillness.

OM Shanti, Angelika