Saturday, 20 May 2017

Tension and relaxation

In last month's post, I wrote about attention. Sometimes the mind will focus in on one object or activity, becoming narrow or concentrated. At other times it can be open and spacious, not fixed anywhere in particular, open to whatever comes along.

 Our physical bodies also move between two poles of tension and openness. Muscles contract and relax in order to flex and extend our joints; the work of moving our limbs, our bodies, and other objects (by carrying, throwing, dragging or pushing) involves repeated tension and relaxation of muscles. Even the work of the heart, digestive system, and the circulation relies on muscular tension and relaxation.

When we make a great effort, our bodies become tense and tight. Interestingly, this is true even of mental effort: people will unconsciously tense their jaw, brow or shoulders when they have to memorise something by heart or calculate difficult sums.

And when we take a nice bath or sauna, or have a massage, or just a nap, our bodies again become relaxed and loose and open. It's impossible to be physically tense and yet feel mentally calm and at ease.

Your body should move freely between effort and non-effort, between tension and relaxation. Hard work and effort can be rewarding and satisfying. People enjoy physical sport and exercise. But when the body and mind can't relax, we become anxious, restless, aggressive, sleepless. And if we can't move freely and work hard from time to time, we become depressed, lethargic, hopeless. So you can observe how your body is, and in particular watch those moments when it changes from effort to relaxation, from non-effort to work. Does your body move fluidly from one way of being to another, or do you get stuck?

At rest, a cat is completely soft. If you pick her up she flops over your arm, as if she has no skeleton. Yet when she moves, she is lightning-quick, strong and direct. And then, in the blink of an eye, she is at rest again. This is the natural way our bodies should function.


We will have a meditation morning in Ranelagh on Saturday 27 May, 10am to 1pm. All welcome, including beginners.