I’ve been busting myself lately for using the word ‘relax’ whilst teaching. It’s easy to do. It makes for a happy and productive sounding verb.

“Relax the shoulders”
“Relax into the floor”
“Allow yourself to relax”

But if we could so easily relax, there’d be no need for the physical practice of yoga. We’d just go into our corner, relax, and have a cuppa.

Relax isn’t really helpful as a verb or as an action, it’s more accurately expressed, I believe, as a result and as a state of relaxation, as a noun. A noun that requires a lot of other actions to get to. These other actions I find are more productive instructions.

Here’s what I think leads to a state of relaxation.

Rhythmic Breath

If we require relaxation, we most likely are starting in some degree of anxiety. In an anxious state our breath, our bodies, our entire system is out of rhythm and out of whack. A sure-fire way to bring some relief to a super-charged nervous system is to recalibrate a slow and even breath. Rhythmic breath matched with vinyasa-based movement is one technique for guiding the breath back into a state of equilibrium and thereby the nervous system. Use of the ujjayi restriction in the throat can regulate the breath so that it retains a slow and rhythmic movement.

Repetitive Movement

A way to encourage even rhythm and healthy function in breath, mind, and nervous system is to give the body a simple repetitive movement. The uncomplicated and mentally undemanding act of repeating a movement over and over again will give the mind a focal point, the breath an action to hang on to, and the nervous system further signals to let go of a panic state. These repetitive movements are easily found in sun salutations (making sure your physical abilities can meet the variation you choose to retain rhythm without over-efforting) as well as other combinations of postures, breath, and movement.


Our posture reveals a lot about whether or not we’re relaxed or if we’re expecting danger or distress. Think about how you react when startled. I would guess it’s some action involving closing inward, protecting your heart and guts, and shielding your head away from the world. Beyond that heart races and breath gets quick and shallow. Even low level stresses, if continual, can keep us fixed in tight rounded shoulders and restricted breath. And even if you think you’re avoiding most stress, our modern habits of sitting at desks or on sofas can put the body in that physical state of rounding in and closing off and thus telling the nervous system it cannot relax. Therefore a way of moving into a state of relaxation will be to continually encourage posture that signals to the nervous system and the world that you are comfortable and unafraid of danger. Yoga postures in general will lead to this. But when you’re struggling with placement of shoulders and chest in, for example, backbends, let’s not just think ‘relax the shoulders.’ Let’s actively move the shoulders down the back and broaden the chest so we have a fully open posture in which we can breath and feel.


In addition to the breath and physical movement practice found in vinyasa yoga, there is of course meditation. But it is a mistake or misunderstanding to think that one meditates and relaxes easily. Often, meditation is grueling, demanding, emotional, frustrating, boring and irritating. It forces you to confront all the nonsense and garbage you may be clinging to, to your fears, to your inability to open, to whatever it may be. But it is a practice for which there are loads of different techniques and traditions to guide you through. Consistent, regular meditation practice will help you work through your mental frenzies and demons and bring you into a state of relaxation. There is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel. Meditate is the verb, relaxation is the noun.

I will try in my teaching to keep thinking about the actions that lead to relaxation rather than just asking for it and you can do the same by first thinking about breath, repetition, and posture. That’s what works for me and I’m sure in time you’ll find more.


Easy and hard at same time….

Curated from www.yogapossible.com