The term “Relax “gets banded around a lot especially in freediving circles, “just relax, take a deep breath” or “you just need to be more relaxed” now this is valid and all well and good unless you are like my type A personality New Yorker friend who internally screams “I’m trying to f**king relax”. This was interesting to me as she has a lot of physical yoga training yet this didn’t necessarily translate into knowing how to relax.
During our instructor course we highlight to candidates the importance of not just telling people to relax but rather giving them the tools to do so, thankfully there are a lot at our disposal and I want to focus on just one of them The Body Scan.
Chances are if you’re reading this you are either doing so on your phone or else laptop. It’s also likely that it’s during down time for you, when theoretically you should be relaxing but are you?
I’d like you to try a little exercise. Stay in the exact position you’re in now, no need to move a muscle.
Scan your body head to toe, is your face soft, jaw relaxed how are you holding your shoulders, how about your posture and your breathing? Chances are that you’re noticing a lot of tension in the body that you would have continued to be unaware of had you not taken time to pay attention.
Now adjust your body position take a couple of deep breaths and have a little shake out to loosen things up. Again scan your body, but this time see if you can let go and soften any areas of tension you come across, release muscles that are activated that don’t need to be. See if you can reach subtler levels of awareness real sensations everything from the sun or wind on your face, the touch of material on your skin , or your breath as it comes in and out of your nose. Whatever you feel in the moment, acknowledge it then move on to another part of the body. Repeat this head to toe several times.
This doesn’t have to just be a one off exercise, better to check in with yourself throughout the day, at home, work, in the car or simply whenever the thought to do so comes to mind or you need to recentre yourself.
I use the “body scan” during my freefall, the part of the dive where a freediver stops kicking, allows gravity to take over and effortlessly sleeps their way down to the bottom. I’ll often notice my shoulders are tense, my quads, stomach and I constantly move through my body letting go. This also has the added benefit of keeping my mind routed in the present and helps to dispel any negative thoughts that might creep in.
Releasing tension from the body can also help relax the mind; this is what yogis discovered centuries ago and is why we reach such deep levels of relaxation in Shavasana, the post yoga meditation. What a lot of people don’t realise though that this actually works the other way too.
A couple of years ago I was at a 3 day Vipssana retreat, usually the courses are 10 days, however, this was just a refresher for old students to help maintain practice.
Anyhow my point is I have always had chronically tight hamstrings, mainly due to years of neglect but I can also remember even as a young child struggling to touch my toes. Now prior to the retreat I was doing a lot of yoga, which was helping to gain some range of movement but what I didn’t expect was what happened after the retreat.
When I went back to my morning yoga routine I realised that I’d gained a lot of flexibility despite having suspended all yoga and stretching during the retreat. What I had been doing though was meditating for 10 hrs a day, calming my mind, scanning my body and I believe this released tension that I was holding. I would normally have brushed this off as a case of having been sitting cross legged for 3 days and maybe it helped open my hips, however, I have done 3 day and several 10 day retreats before and never experienced this from sitting alone.
What we do with the body affects the mind and calming the mind can also affect the body in a continuous feedback loop. Tapping into this awareness can give us powerful tools to help us in life. More than ever it’s important that we work with these simple techniques to counter the fast paced crazy world we’re living in.
If you’re a freediver then congratulations you’re already ahead of the curve and next time your instructor tells you to relax you’ll hopefully have a better idea of what they actually mean!
Be kind to yourself