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The Lost Art of Relaxation

Sunset at the southernmost tip of India, Kanyakumari beach, where the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea converge.

We are experts at applying effort. We are terribly poor at relaxation. I say “we” since by virtue of reading this blog, you are probably a seeker of self-development and discovery, and not the kind of person that sits around all day doing nothing.

The art of relaxation is a lost art.

In my yoga classes (I teach three classes per week – Baptiste Power Vinyasa Yoga) I see all walks of life, with a skew towards working professionals. Motivated and hard-working, I find students more than eager to try a new pose or push themselves in some manner. More sweat is not a problem for most people.

I also notice that many students struggle with the later parts of classes, where the tempo slows and the focus is on integrative energy. Turning inward of the senses with deeper and longer asanas (poses). These poses take an ability to sustain effort while also relaxing into the pose. In the finale of every class, we end with a corpse pose “savasana” which requires nothing but stillness while laying face up and arms/legs spread open. Inevitably, people start fidgeting and futzing with things. Fixing hair, toweling off, etc.

Many people have lost their capacity to relax.

It is not gone, just lost. It can be found and cultivated again with practice. The problem with this lost art is that the secret to excellence in any field (especially athletics) is not just with the training, it is with the recovery. If you watch pro cyclists train, they put in incredible amounts of effort in training, but are also among the laziest people in the world when they are not training! Having lived with a house-full of triathletes I can personally attest to this fact. Recovery is as important as training.

Without the ability to relax, your body-mind complex will burn out.

It’s like red-lining your car or using your laptop until the battery runs out. As humans, we have an enormous capacity to adapt and take punishment…but over time, without the ability to truly relax, the price will be paid. It may take a few decades….but it is unavoidable. This applies to corporate execs or people who have their eyes set on that goal as well.

Take as much care learning and sincerely practicing relaxation as you do trying to “do” other stuff in this world. Start each day with 10 long and deep breaths. Meditate for 10 minutes a day or more. Practice yoga or go for a run WITHOUT headphones and music blasting in your ears. Sit by the ocean or a lake and do nothing but watch the world.

Make it a practice to relax.

3 comments

  1. Scott GF says:

    In this world of super stimulate use with Starbucks on every corner people today do not understand what it means to relax. The pressure of multi-tasking, people have become mediocre at a lot of things instead of great at a few.

    I have, at times felt that relaxing was very difficult since I have a running list of things to do in my head.

    But in Buddhism getting back to the present and concentration on the breath helps me to release and un-grasp what I believe to be mine. It’s the grasping and perceived ownership of things that I allow to get in my way. Meditation helps me lightly blow away these mental obstacles on the road to relaxation. I get there sometimes, not always. Just the picture alone helped me relax and I took a deep breath. I could actually smell the surf and the salty air at the shore, I felt the sand under foot, I was there for a brief time. It was so nice.

  2. jones says:

    Thanks. Your article remind me i should review my running :-).
    i was practicing most of what you suggest when i first start to run, or re-learn how to run , but when i reach certain level of distance, i slowly forgot all these. I keep focus on pushing myself further instead of relax.
    i read your other article which touch on caltivating present. i was totally shocked, that was the big thing i have lost while running, i mind too much about how long i have to keep running, instead of realising that moment when i am running.
    Again, thanks for the great articles, i enjoy reading them and learning from them.
    Time to go back to the basic 🙂

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