This article is a chapter from the book Hatha Yoga.
Life has become very complex in these days. The struggle for existence is very acute and keen. There is very keen competition in every walk of life. The bread problem has become very difficult to be solved. There is unemployment everywhere. Even brilliant young men with extraordinary qualification and recommendations hardly get job in these days. Therefore, a great deal of continuous mental and physical strain is imposed on modern humanity by its deadening daily work and unhealthy mode of life.
Action produces movement; movement causes habits. Man has acquired many artificial habits. He has allowed nature’s original habits to lapse. He has brought tension in many muscles and nerves through incorrect habit-positions. He has forgotten the first principles of relaxation. He will have to learn lessons from the cat, dog and the infant in the Science of Relaxation.
If you practise relaxation, no energy will be wasted. You will be very active, and energetic. During relaxation the muscles and nerves are at rest. The Prana or energy is stored up and conserved. The vast majority of persons who have no comprehensive understanding of this beautiful science of relaxation simply waste their energy by creating unnecessary movements of muscles and by putting the muscles and nerves under great strain.
Some persons shake their legs unnecessarily while sitting. Some play Mridang or Tabala (drum) with their fingers on the table when their minds are idle or vacant. Some whistle. Some shake their heads. Some tap their chests or abdomen with their fingers. Energy is thus dissipated or depleted through unnecessary movements of the parts of the body on account of lack of knowledge of the elementary principles of the science of relaxation.
Do not mistake laziness for relaxation. The lazy man is inactive. He has no inclination to work. He is full of lethargy and inertia. He is dull. Whereas a man who practises relaxation takes only rest. He has vigour, strength, vitality and endurance. He never allows even, a small amount of energy to trickle away. He accomplishes wonderful work gracefully in a minimum space of time.
When you wish to contract a muscle in order to perform an action an impulse is transmitted from the brain through the nerve to the muscle. Energy or Prana travels through the motor nerves, reaches the muscle and causes it to draw its ends together. When the muscle contracts it pulls the limb which you wish to move. Now you can perform the action with ease. First there is thought. Thought takes form in action through contraction of muscles.
Suppose you wish to lift up a chair. The desire creates an impulse in the brain. The impulse is transmitted to the muscles of the arms from the brain through the motor nerves. A current of prana or energy is transmitted along the nerves from the brain. The muscles contract and you perform the action of lifting up the chair. Similarly all other conscious or unconscious actions are performed by you. If the muscles are overworked more energy is spent and you get fatigue. There is much wear and tear in the muscles through overwork, strain and tension on account of heavy expenditure of Prana or energy.
When you perform an action consciously message is given to the mind and the mind immediately obeys by sending a current of energy to the desired part. An unconscious act is done instinctively or mechanically. The mind does not wait for orders. When the scorpion stings you in a finger, the finger is at once withdrawn. You do not argue here. This is an instinctive or mechanical movement.
A man of easily irritable nature cannot enjoy peace of mind. His brain, nerves and muscles are always under high tension. He is wasting every minute abundant muscular and nerve energy and brain-power. He is a very weak man though he is endowed with physical strength, because he loses his balance of mind very easily. If you really want to enjoy unruffled peace and abiding joy, you must try to possess a calm, controlled and balanced mind by eradicating worry, anxieties, fear, anger, and impulses.
You do not gain anything by worrying yourself unnecessarily and manifesting anger for nothing at all. Anger belongs to brutal nature. Anger does positive injury to brain, blood and nerves. You are not profited a bit by exhibiting anger. By repeating an action, a habit is formed in the mind. If you worry yourself frequently, a worrying habit is developed. Your vitality and energy are simply drained by worry, anger, fear. Why should you be afraid of anything at all, when everything is nothing but your own self? Fear, anger and worry are the products of ignorance. The muscles and nerves of a victim of anger and worry are always under contraction and high tension.
The action of one set of muscles can be checked by the operation of another set of muscles. One impulse may try to put one set of muscles in motion and by sending another repressive impulse through another set of muscles you can counteract the action of the first set of muscles. If a man abuses you, you may jump at once to beat him. An impulse has already put one set of muscles in motion. You may check the impulse through discrimination and reflection: “I do not gain anything by beating him. He is an ignorant man. He does not know how to behave. Let me forgive him now.” A repressive impulse will check at once the operation of the first set of muscles by another set of muscles. Raising of impulses and counter-impulses or repressing or inhibitive impulses cause high tension in nerves, muscles and brain. Vast majority of persons are slaves of impulses; hence they do not enjoy peace of mind. They are tossed hither and thither.
The science of relaxation is an exact science. It can be learnt very easily. Relaxation of muscles is as much important as contraction of muscles. I lay great emphasis on the relaxation of mind, nerves and muscles. For relaxation Savasana is Prescribed.
“Sava” means ‘dead body.’ When one performs this Asana, it gives the appearance of a dead body. So it is named Savasana. This is a closing pose. You will have to do this after doing all the exercises.
Spread a soft blanket and lie supine (on the back). Keep the hand on the ground by the sides. Let the legs be straight. Keep the heels together and the toes separated. Close your eyes. Now relax all the muscles of the body. Breathe slowly and rhythmically. Forget all your bubbling emotions and direct all your thoughts internally. Relax all muscles, nerves and organs. Start the relaxation process from the toes. Then proceed to the calf muscles, gastronemius, solens and plantaris muscles, muscles of the neck, face, etc. See that the abdominal organs, heart, chest, brain are also relaxed. Have an order. Do not sleep. In this pose you will enjoy perfect peace, ease, comfort and relaxation. You will have to experience beneficial results of this Asana. This must be done at the end of all the exercises. Then only the course will be complete.
The pleasant and exhilarating feeling can only be realised by those who can successfully do this Asana. Words cannot adequately describe the feelings. Every one of you should enjoy it. If you are tired from a hard work, perform this Asana for 5 minutes. You will be fit again to continue your hard work with the same vigour. This is a blessing for all hard workers.
If you like, you can practise the relaxation by lying in an easy chair after finishing your Asanas or exercises. Those who know relaxation can take a small nap for ten minutes at any time they like. Busy people, doctors and lawyers should know the science of relaxation. They can relax the mind also and take rest in the waiting rooms of railway stations and bar rooms as well. They will be quite fit for further activity in the courts or the dispensary. Relaxation refreshes a man completely.
Students, journalists, busy lawyers, doctors and businessmen should know the science of mental relaxation. They should practise it also daily. Those who do not possess a knowledge of this science of internal and external relaxation waste their physical and mental energy considerably. Those who practise relaxation can conserve their physical and mental energy and utilise it to their best advantage. Yogis know this science well. They are perfect masters of this useful science. Those who practise relaxation will never experience fatigue. They close their eyes for a few minutes even while standing and get themselves ready for further work. Energy flows in their nerves when they relax just as water flows when the tap is opened.
Relaxation is a very important factor in muscular exercises. In Hala, Sarvanga, Paschimottan, Dhanur and Ardha-Matsyendra Asanas all the muscles of the body are stretched and contracted to an enormous degree. During intense muscular activity, the metabolism is increased. Metabolism is the anabolic and catabolic changes that take place in the body (wear and tear in the system). The muscles that are put under severe strain demand relaxation and rest. It is Savasana that promptly and efficiently ensures complete relaxation and perfect ease.