Print this page

Search whole site

Relaxation

Category: Actions

Type

Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

Many of the activities in this section are ongoing ways of life, but this is an activity that can be tried now and again when you are able.  It requires you to relax your body in a way which gives you far lower patterns of mental activity, the reasoning function is subdued and the person relaxes into a semi trance like state.  There is a difference between this technique and lucid dreaming, but again, the principles on which they work are very similar.  In lucid dreaming you sleep, but find ways of recognising you are dreaming in the dream.  In this technique you aim not to fall asleep, but hover, almost on the point of sleep.

It is characterised by brain waves in a specific state, but this is somewhat irrelevant to the method of use and the way it works.  It is a bit like saying the computer is on half power – which tells us nothing.  What is more important is what functions are inactive.

This is a ‘core’ technique, one that is used by just about every system of spiritual experience and religion and furthermore is found accompanying a host of other techniques, but buried beneath the wealth of other instructions that come with them.  For example it is used as a precursor to controlled breathing and hypnosis techniques.  It also gets all sorts of different names, which makes it difficult sometimes to realise that all the time, the same method is being employed.

The aim is simple if we put it in physical terms, to invoke our parasympathetic nervous system as opposed to our sympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system is our threat response system, the parasympathetic nervous system is invoked when no threats are present, thus by trying to artificially invoke the parasympathetic system, we in effect are telling our body [which cannot see this] that there are no threats so it can calm down.

Thus it is a way of calming down [or suppressing] both our autonomic system and our nervous system.

Background

In many systems this is called ‘meditation’, but I hesitate to call this technique by that name because it has become a catch all term describing a whole host of different approaches, postures and methods, many of which do not appear to work.  This works and the observations show it does.

In Yoga and Hindu thought the general approach described here is termed Dhyana and has been translated by some authors as deep meditation.  It is used in Buddhism and is called meditation though the postures are not the same.

Stages of Meditation – Acharya Kamalashila with commentary by the Dalai Lama
AK: Calm abiding is that mind which has overcome distraction to external objects, and which spontaneously and continuously turns toward the object of meditation with bliss and pliancy

In the I Ching, it is found within the description for the gua XIAO XU

Lewis Carroll used and recognised the technique. It is part of the overall practises of ButeykoMilton Erickson used the technique within the overall practises of hypnotherapy.  It is extensively used in various healing methods.

There is proof that relaxation and thus suppression produces more spiritual experiences than overload or tenseness, in a survey of out of body experiences Celia Green found that relaxation was key.

  Out of the Body Experiences – Celia Green
The replies of subjects of single cases of OOB were as follows
-         more relaxed 33%
-         more tense 11.4%
-         same throughput 18.7%
-         no opinion 36.9%
 The responses of those subjects with more than one OOB are as follows
-         more relaxed 41.3%
-         more tense 11.3%
-         same throughput 22%
-         no opinion 25.4%

Method

It would appear from many of the observations I collected that the most effective time for obtaining an experience and being able to get into a state of deep relaxation are early morning just after you have woken up or late evening on the point at which you go to sleep.  Yram, for example, found that if he slept overnight in the normal way, then drank a glass of water and used the early morning for the exercises it worked well, as he was in less danger of falling asleep. 

Perform Preliminary preparations – see Preliminary preparation 

Minimise sensory input – you can choose any number of a host of different techniques from the section on Sensory deprivation.  

Ensure all obligations etc are minimised - You must have deliberately ensured you are not diverted by any obligations or objectives. Thus you should have completed the methods for Reducing desires and Suppressing obligations before you start tackling this technique.  Also use the techniques for Reducing threats.

Posture – Adopt a posture that is comfortable for you, minimising any nervous sensations and sensations of bodily touch. In this respect the options are 

  • a warm soft comfortable chair with many soft pillows is ideal or a recliner chair. 
  • a bed See Lying down 
  • the yoga shavasana position - note that as far as I can see this has not proved any more effective than the other options, so it is really what you feel most relaxed with

Breathing

Breathe through the nose – it is very important that you only breathe through your nose.  This protects the airways by humidifying, warming, and cleaning the air entering the lungs. It is worth adding that by keeping the nose clear and encouraging nasal breathing, it often helps those with health problems and symptoms improve. 

Use the diaphragm – see Belly breathing

Letting go

The next step is to try to forget your body.  There are two alternative methods that appear to work in this area although a number within Suppression of learning might work 

Allow your whole body to become soft and heavy, letting it relax. As the body relaxes, feel the whole body rising and falling with each breath.
Scan the body from the toes to the fingers to the crown of the head, looking for tension, tightness and contracted muscles. Consciously release and relax any areas that you find. If you need to, rock or wiggle part of your body from side to side to encourage further release.
Release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body. Let your body move deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation.

Not Thinking

There are three stages to this next step. 

Visualisation – this is the ability to invent fantasies in your mind.  If you are good at this anyway, you can skip this step, but some people are both unused to having ‘pictures in their head’ and also need to be taught to distinguish between fantasy and real spiritual experience.  Once you have mastered this you can move onto....  

Concentration on a single object – this is the ability to hold your mind on an exclusive thought.  One option here is to concentrate on your breathing.  This is known in yoga as  ‘yoga nidra’.   Once you have achieved this step, then you are ready for the next step.

Concentration on nothing – this is the ability to lie indefinitely after the impressions have faded away and see nothing but blackness.  Once you have achieved this step, then you can move on to the next step.  I have provided an extra section here from the Cloud of Unknowing giving a few more pointers on what is needed.  This section is quite detailed and in old fashioned language but the advice is actually quite good.

Deepening of consciousness – this is the ability to go ‘deeper’ into the state reached during the last step seeing nothing but blackness.  This is when the experiences really start.

Staying awake

At first, when doing this, there is the very real likelihood that you will fall asleep.  But you need to persevere.  The aim is to be ‘still awake and aware, but where the conscious mind has totally relaxed to the point of dissolution. 

A really practised yogi can maintain awareness even when his brain waves have sunk to the level of delta waves, which would normally correspond to a deep sleep. 

Numerous people have devised some quite ingenious methods of staying awake for example: 

  • Holding your arm up - Robert Louis Stevenson used to see ‘brownies’ .  The technique he used was to lie in bed with his forearm perpendicular to the mattress.  He would then drift into a state half way between waking and sleeping.  If he fell asleep, his forearm would fall to the mattress and wake him up. 
  • Spoon resting - Salvidor Dali is said to have trained himself to doze in an armchair with his chin resting on a spoon which was held in one hand, propped by his elbow which rested on a table.  In this position, when his muscles relaxed and he was on the verge of falling asleep, his chin would drop and he would wake, often in the middle of a vision which he would then proceed to paint.  
  • Ball bearings - Thomas Edison developed a technique for maintaining his hypnagogic state while working on his many inventions. Sitting in a comfortable chair, he would hold some ball bearings in his closed hand, palm down, as his hand rested on the arm of the chair. Directly beneath his hand he placed a metal bowl. If he drifted off to sleep, his hand would open and the ball bearings would fall into the metal bowl and awaken him. It's reported that he would repeat this technique over and over until he received the inspiration or information he sought 
  • Occasional sensory stimulus - Any form of extremely gentle and small occasional sensory stimulus could be used – clearly a benign one is the most sensible.  Here are some examples; 
    • A dim light that comes on every 5-10  minutes or so [or more if need be], it must not be bright -  just enough to raise you back to a semi-conscious state 
    • A small gentle low volume musical note or sound that activates every 5-10 minute or so [or more if need be].  Buzzers and alarms are too strident, it must be gentle.  I have found that a clock radio which keeps on coming on every 20 minutes, but is set to a very very low volume works really well.  Speech here tends to be better than music because at that low volume, it is just an unintelligible sound and doesn’t interfere with the vision 
    • Some touch sensation – a feather for example – that touches a sensitive part of your body [for example the nose] every 5 to 10 minutes [or more if need be].  This is difficult to achieve if you are alone, though I am sure anyone ingenious enough to link it with a mechanical device could implement this.  I have found that a very light net curtain wafting in the breeze across my face by an open window worked for me here. 
    • The smell of something pleasant – perfume, a food smell – again wafted by after 10 minutes or so.  It must be very faint, but just enough to stimulate one sense.  I once drifted off with my eyes open looking out of our lounge window whilst waiting for the joint in the oven in the kitchen to cook.  I was watching the trees in the wood opposite swaying in the breeze, deeply rested, and saw a large figure shaped like a snowman moving around above the wood – an hallucination of course, but a truly beautiful one and one which lasted for some time

How it works

It may be helpful to have open the Model of the Mind and to have read the generic description of How spiritual experience works.

If you lie down in or on a soft, warm bed you have helped to minimise the sensations one receives from the autonomic system as it struggles to keep you upright, and from the nervous system as it attempts to send and receive all these messages.  You will also be helping still at least one of the 5 senses – the sensations coming from the sense of touch.  In other words, you have minimised the sensations of touch. 

By closing your eyes and ensuring there are no noises and smells or other sensory intrusions one has also minimised the input from the 5 senses. The additional exercises of letting go, will further help to minimise touch sensations as well as those of the autonomic system.

The repetition of the phrase ‘tensing and releasing’ or ‘all gone, all gone, all gone’[which acts lie a mantra] has the added effect of helping to still the reason function and the input from memory.

The final stage where you concentrate on only one thing and then nothing, stills the function of reason.  As long as you manage to concentrate on only the one thing, there is nothing coming in from memory and there is nothing with which to reason.

The lack of input from the perception system means you do not learn either and again the lack of input from perceptions means emotions are toned right down to almost a standstill.

The Will is given nothing to do, it has no need to perform any activity, so it ‘goes to sleep’, at which point there is the danger that you do indeed fall asleep, but as long as you keep on concentrating, the composer can take over whilst you are awake and you have your spiritual experience.

As you can see from the diagram this technique is almost total in its effect.  You still, however, have the tricky problem of the ego – which fights if it is strong – ‘do something, think something’ it says!!  For a person with a weak ego, however, the technique is virtually perfect, but of course on a day to day ongoing basis it has no relevance, which is why the other techniques such as patience and so on are used – they both train the mind and allow you to have invisible or simple spiritual experiences whilst awake and active.

It is worth adding that this technique can produce some very profound experiences including out of body, so you do need to be aware that this can happen.

Advantages

Relaxation of this sort has health benefits, in fact it seems to be as much use in helping people with poor health as it does in inducing other sorts of spiritual experience. A form of diaphragmatic breathing (often referred to as costal breathing) is taught by several therapy programmes including the Starfish Project and the McGuire Programme. We have also seen it used by the Buteyko method.  Many people who stutter have reported success in using relaxation and diaphragmatic breathing to help them gain more control over their speech.

It is free, it is legal and it requires no helper and as such you are not open to brain washing from supervising helpers.

It works and can produce the full gamut of spiritual experience over time, from visions to past lives, to improved perception and so on.  From the examples, you can see it has also produced out of body states.

It is safe – no GABA, no endorphins, no adrenalin.  No addiction.

It can be completed at quite convenient times – all you have to do is go to bed early and/or wake up earlier than normal.  The technique is actually the one you would use to go to sleep, so you are only doing what would come naturally to you.

Even if you fall asleep it does you good!

Its effects influence the physical as well as the psychological structure.  It is very useful in yogic management of high blood pressure, peptic ulcer, anxiety, hysteria, cancer and all psycho-somatic diseases and neuroses. In fact, [this] is beneficial no matter what the condition is, even in perfect health, because it brings up the latent impressions buried within the subconscious mind, and the mind which operates during waking consciousness relaxes and subsides.

Disadvantages

This mechanism does require some practise to perfect, and not everyone is capable of achieving anything with it.  In common with all the techniques which do not involve chemicals, total relaxation requires a "loosening of ego boundaries ... openness, sensitivity, more empathy and diffuse-absorbed attention” which in layman’s terms means you are unlikely to be egotistical.

This is a long slow process and hurrying it does not help, because all you are doing by hurrying is going from this safer and less intrusive technique to potentially more dangerous techniques.  You thus have to practise patience – oodles of patience.  For some people it never ‘works’.

It can be very difficult to maintain the experience once it does happen, with this technique.

References and further reading

  • Maury, Louis Ferdinand Alfred (1848). 'Des hallucinations hypnagogiques, ou des erreurs des sens dans l'etat intermediaire entre la veille et le sommeil'. Annales Medico-Psychologiques du système nerveux, 11, 26-40. 
  • Mavromatis, Andreas (1987). Hypnagogia: the Unique State of Consciousness Between Wakefulness and Sleep. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul

Observations

Artists such as Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali were able to use these techniques and recorded their experiences via their paintings. Magritte referred to his paintings as the product of ‘half sleep’.

August Kekulé’s realization that the structure of benzene was a closed ring came after dozing in a relaxed state in front of a fire.  Many writers and scientists have credited their inspiration with this wholly relaxed state including Richard Wagner, Walter Scott, Thomas Edison and Isaac NewtonEdgar Allan Poe, for example, wrote of the "fancies" he experienced "only when I am on the brink of sleep, with the consciousness that I am so."

Related observations