Look at Eugenia closely in this image (left) in Shavasana (Sanskrit = corpse position). Her body is relaxed and heavy on the floor, legs, feet and arms are out to the sides a bit, and loose and comfortable. Her palms face up, fingers and neck relaxed. Some find it difficult to stay awake, but it is important to not sleep while doing this relaxation. There is a big difference between being consciously relaxed with intention and asleep and unaware. Yogi Ramacharaka writes (slightly shortened and revised with more up-to-date language): “...Let us first consider the opposite-contraction motion of a muscle. When we wish to contract a muscle to perform an action, we send an impulse from the brain to the muscle, and an extra supply of Prana (life force) is conveyed to it—the muscle contracts. The prana travels over the motor nerves, reaches the muscle and causes it to draw its ends together and to thus exert a pull, bringing it into action. “In relaxation there is practically no current of prana being poured out. The muscles and nerves are at rest; prana is stored and conserved instead of being dissipated in reckless expenditures.
Some How-To Tips for Yoga-NidraHere are some simple suggestions to help you derive the full benefits. INHALE AS YOU STRETCH and continue to stretch each muscle referred to (in details below) so that your stretch is coordinated with the rhythm of your breath. This means that by the time you have finished inhaling, your stretching is also at its limit. Then as you exhale, you consciously relax the muscle at the same time as you exhale. When you read Inhale (see below), you are already beginning the stretch. When you reach the end of your inhalation, tense the muscle as much as you can. In the same way, start to relax the muscle AS YOU EXHALE. So by the time you have finished exhaling, the muscle is completely relaxed. This is how you learn to coordinate the opposite-contraction muscle movements. The combination of breath, muscle contraction and tension, relaxation and intention is more powerful than can be expressed in words. Note: If you do this in bed, just be sure the mattress is not soft. If a mattress is too soft, your back sinks into a negative position and this creates tension in the nerves and muscles. A firm bed is better. Organic cotton futons are great. Some people prefer to also have a blanket over them (and if on the floor, under them), or to wear warm clothes, because the body can feel cold while inactive. Plan ahead. It is best to not have a big pillow under your head. If you allow your mind to also relax and focus on what you are doing, the full impact of this relaxation will be felt. If you question each movement for what is happening, you will continue to feel stress. If you don't understand something, don't worry about it. Just move forward and do what comes next. You'll get it by the time you have read this series and practiced the relaxation a few times. When you begin to stretch and tense in this series, your eyes will remain closed, but you will be facing up with your chin in line with the rest of your body (not to the side as shown in the image above). You can check if your head is in line with your body by lifting it off the floor and looking down at your feet. You will notice if you are not straight and be able to adjust your spine. After you have gone through your entire body with contractions and relaxation, you will be asked to let your head roll gently to the right side. Close your eyes and relax your facial muscles. Begin by breathing the Complete Yoga Breath. If you haven't already learned this, please go to the Breath series before you do this relaxation. This is very important. You cannot relax completely without breathing properly.
Lie down and start with very deep Yoga breathing via the larynx—filling your abdomen as it gets larger (not with muscles pushed out, but with the air that gently flows down into it). Let the breath continue into your ribcage (the accordion visual from the Breath series, Step 3-Ribcage), and then let it continue up to your collarbone (not lifting your shoulders, but feeling the collarbone rise on its own from the continuous movement of your breath). Do this about 10 times, counting the seconds it takes for you to effortlessly inhale and then exhale counting the same seconds. Some people can inhale for 10 seconds without tension, while others can inhale for 25 seconds. Whatever you count to (easily) with your inhalation, exhale to the same count. If you can hear your heartbeat, count the number of heartbeats. You want to begin rhythmic breathing, but absolutely do not strain to make your breath last longer! Just breathe deeply and consciously. Place your palms gently on your body (abdomen, ribcage, upper chest) as you inhale and exhale. It helps to control what you touch. It is also more powerful if you time your breathing with each stretch and tense action. In other words, the minute you begin to inhale, you begin to count the seconds (or heartbeats) as you also begin to stretch the muscle that is in focus. This might be a bit repetitive, but only because it is very important to know all the details before you begin. Note: The average count is usually a slow 12 seconds for the inhale and stretch, and a slow 12 seconds for the exhale and relax. In my DVD, I count approximately 12 seconds inhalation and exhalation for each muscle group. This is all about behavioral development. You can train yourself to make a routine out of just about anything. All it takes is intention. Again, the repetitious line: There is no need to rush. I know that I repeat that sentence throughout this site, but only because it's really important. You will learn how to do this and after you succeed in experiencing total relaxation physically and mentally, your life will also change. Love yourself and give yourself the space and time to know this. Health is one of the best side effects of this daily relaxation practice. If you do not already have my DVD and book, play some soft sounds of waves and waterfalls, birds, whatever in nature you love. Or play music that is very soft and relaxing. However, it is always easier if someone is talking you through a deep relaxation.
How To Relax Each Muscle GroupYou will move from your left to your right, up through all of your muscle groups in this order:
- Left foot: Inhale, first make a fist with your foot and then stretch your toes apart as much as you can and bring your toes back facing you. Tense the muscles. Exhale as you draw the tension out, relax. Repeat with the right foot.
- Right foot: Inhale, make a fist with your foot and stretch your toes apart as much as you can. Note: If you get a severe cramp, try to follow it and stretch even more until it subsides. This is not an easy thing to do, but it sometimes really releases major tension in the feet.
- Left calf: Inhale, lengthen (stretch) the calf muscles up to behind the knees. Exhale, relax.
- Right calf: Inhale, lengthen (stretch) the calf muscles up to behind the knees. Exhale, relax.
- Left thigh: Inhale, lengthen (stretch) the thigh muscles up to the hips. Exhale, relax.
- Right thigh: Inhale, lengthen (stretch) the thigh muscles up to the hips. Exhale, relax.
- Pelvic Region (from your ureter to your anus): Inhale. Do the Kegel exercises, but add the buttocks. If you don't know what this is, you can get the detailed instructions at: 1st Chakra (Kegel). Exhale, relax.
- Abdomen (from your pubic hair to your navel): Press the abdominal muscles out and tense. Exhale, relax.
- Solar Plexus (from your navel to the solar plexus): Inhale, and stretch and tense the muscles from your navel to your solar plexus (just under your ribcage in the center of your upper body). Exhale, relax.
- Left hand: Inhale as you make a fist with your hand and tense all the muscles. Exhale, relax.
- Right hand: Inhale as you make a fist with your hand and tense all the muscles. Exhale, relax.
- Left forearm: Inhale. With your left hand now relaxed, merely stretch the muscles of your forearm up to your elbow. Exhale, relax.
- Right forearm: Inhale. With your right hand now relaxed, merely stretch the muscles of your forearm up to your elbow. Exhale, relax.
- Left upper arm: Inhale. Lengthen and stretch the muscles of your upper arm to your left shoulder. Exhale, relax.
- Right upper arm: Inhale. Lengthen and stretch the muscles up to the shoulder. Exhale, relax.
- Spine: Inhale. Press your shoulders down on the the floor and lift your spine off the floor with your chest expanded like a rooster. Tense all the muscles of the lower spine. Exhale, relax.
- Shoulders: Inhale. Lift your shoulders off the floor reaching for the ceiling. Exhale, relax.
- Neck: Inhale. Lift your head off the floor and press your chin (as close as you can) into your throat. Exhale, relax.
- Throat: Inhale. Roll your head back (without lifting it from the floor) and then stretch your chin up and back as far as you can. You should feel this all along your throat. (This is also a great exercise to do many times a day to avoid a sagging neck or double chin.) Exhale, relax.
Breathe normally now. There is no reason to do the Complete Yoga Breath for the following movements.
- Jawbone: Open your mouth slightly and move your jawbone from the left to the right a few times. Feel the tension inside your mouth and release it.
- Tongue: Press your tongue down and back as far as you can and feel the tension. Relax your tongue and your teeth.
- Forehead and Eyebrows: Stretch your eyebrows up as high as you can as you visualize the crown of your head, and then stretch them down as you visualize the tip of your nose. Up and down, a few times.
- Ears: If possible, wiggle your ears.
- Head: Feel your entire head and stretch all the muscles at the same time. Stretch all of your facial muscles and let them drop completely as you relax, especially your mouth and eyes.
- Eyes: With your eyes still closed, roll them around in circles in both directions, slowly.
- Entire body: Once you have done all of these muscle groups of your body together with your breath, inhale as you stretch your entire body all at once with your arms over your head on the floor pointing to the wall behind your head, and your feet and toes together and stretched pointing to the opposite wall. Exhale, relax. Note: The DVD, YOGANATA, gives you the option to select each section—dance, breath, relaxation—in any sequence you prefer or sequentially all at once. The Manual provides detailed step-by-step instructions for every preliminary stretch and posture. The CD (audio only) of the Complete Yoga Relaxation is available here.