To start with, a quiet and private environment is necessary. Beginners should choose somewhere behind a closed door and away from the sound of the telephone or doorbell. The well-disciplined will be able to relax almost anywhere – in buses, trains, taxis and aeroplanes. The exercises should not be carried out within two hours of a substantial meal as relaxation does not come easily to a full stomach – sleep is the more likely result.
The third basic ingredient of the relaxation response is an element of repetition. STRESS RELIEF YOGA RELAXATION YOGA POSES The ritualistic use of the words of a prayer characterizes almost all societies, but only recently has it been shown that prayers can have a psychological as well as a religious component to them. A sound or a phrase which is often repeated serves a secular purpose and need not be meaningful in any way. (Some relaxation cults resort to humming or buzzing noises.) From the Sanskrit comes the word mantra, which means an instrument of thought.
Usually, but not always, a mantra is a sacred text or passage from the Vedas, such a prayer or incantation being chosen for the individual by a ‘master’. But you may, with equal effect, repeat your own name – as did the poet Tennyson – or use some other phrase. (Suitable phrases are suggested in the 10-day course, and more information on the mantra can be found in Chapter 3.)
4. Thought control
The final corner stone is the adoption of what is usually referred to as a dismissive attitude during the period of relaxation. This is often, for both the beginner and the more experienced, the main stumbling block. Learning thought-control is difficult, and to a large extent it is the area where active relaxation training is most necessary. But there are various ways in which this dissociation from everyday thoughts and dreams may be achieved. The most effective is by a process of redirecting the attention away from general thought patterns.
It is very nearly impossible to do two things at once. We can be caught up in our thoughts, intellectually aroused, or even bound up with frantic day dreaming and fantasy. These are all conditions that are the antithesis of calmness – and death to the relaxation response. But it is possible to direct our ‘attention’ (if that is the right word to use) towards what might be called our vegetative self. One useful and effective way to do this – and this is what I shall be concentrating on in certain sections of the 10-day course – is by learning muscular relaxation and, in all groups, specially worked out breathing techniques. These are catalysts in the development of the dismissive attitude.
An example of relaxation breathing techniques tailored to a very specialized subject is of course Dr Grantly Dick-Read’s relaxation techniques used to facilitate natural childbirth. These breathing-dominated techniques concentrate the mind on the body’s automatic (autonomic) functions and the deep degree of relaxation experienced, if properly applied, studied and practised, blocks out, or dismisses, the immediate appreciation of pain. In other words, concentrating on the breathing techniques throughout childbirth makes the pain of secondary importance while the mother produces her baby.