"The relaxation response is a physical state of deep rest that changes the physical and emotional responses to stress... and the opposite of the fight or flight response." ~ Herbert Benson, MD, The Relaxation Response
Aren't the fresh warm breezes and sunshine of summer just like a balm for the soul? As if you're suddenly able to take a deeper breath, let it out with a sigh and shift some weight off the shoulders. And with that shift into a more relaxed state, perhaps you want to refocus on some desire, an inner goal (conceived in early January as a New Year's resolution, perhaps?) that you'd like to see come to fruition this year.
In 1975, Dr. Herbert Benson wrote The Relaxation Response, based on his and others' research into the link between stress and high blood pressure, and how bringing about a state of deep relaxation can help to heal.
The link was dramatic. For the past 400 years or so, since Rene Descartes introduced his philosophy of dualism, Western medicine has been labouring under the misapprehension that body and mind are separate. Dr. Benson's work was ground-breaking, as he tapped into the ancient work of mystics and yogis, and helped bring to Western consciousness the idea that meditation and conscious control of the breath can have health-giving effects on the body and the mind.
Dr. Benson was one of the pioneers in studying the benefits of meditation, and he found that there were four basic elements that are required to elicit the relaxation response. All of these are found in a meditation practice.
The first is a quiet space, free of distractions.
The second is an object to focus on (the breath or a mantra, which focuses the mind on a single point)
The third is a passive awareness, allowing thoughts, images to drift by without dwelling upon them.
The fourth is a comfortable position, with an upright spine.
When we relax deeply, the sympathetic nervous system ("fight or flight") turns down and we move into "rest, digest and heal" mode.
Here are some of the benefits of a regular deep relaxation practice.
And in this state, if you like, you can bring to mind a statement, a sankalpa, or heart’s resolve, which is something that you would like to achieve in the next 6 to 18 months. It is an affirmation, stated in the present tense. When used in conjunction with yoga nidra, when the body and mind are in a state of deep rest, the unconscious limits that we place upon ourselves are more likely to be set aside, and we become more likely to be able to achieve our goals.
Some examples of a sankalpa are “I am courageous,” I am healthy and vibrant,” “I am patient.” Your sankalpa will be unique to you, and if you are not sure of it yet, you can often uncover it when you are deeply relaxed.
If you’d like to experience this deeply healing practice, check out the new Restorative yoga class on Wednesdays from 6:30-7:30 pm. There are also spaces left at the Healing Heart Restorative Retreat at Tamarack in August (5 spots left!) where we’ll be pracising yoga nidra as well as other deeply restorative practices. Contact me to learn more and to register.
And now, I'd love to hear from you. Have you experienced this delicious practice of yoga nidra? How did it resonate with you? Please leave a comment below!
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.