Meditation and relaxation
The websites and printed magazines are full of pictures, showing beautiful young athletic women (rarely men), sitting in the lotus position, in a room with a simple design or a bucolic landscape, eyes closed, a slight smile floating on their lips. Hushhhhh. They meditate. They are in full bliss. They taste the divine presence inside of them. Each currel has its little set of public or secret techniques, to put the practitioner on an express highway leading to the divine. When these beautiful women relax, they are lying on white bath towels, with stones, oil or hands on their backs. Their blue eyes stare at us, whispering : "Hmmm, I'm so happy to dwell in here, where everything is luxury, calm and voluptuousness. Come with me". The currels do not offer much in term of relaxation. Relaxation is mainly marketed by well-being specialists.
My experience is slightly different. Behind the closed eyes, a real battle takes place. It is an activity which is as intense as the a top athlete's training, except it is not the body which works, it's the mind. I think that meditation and relaxation are just neutral techniques. They are tools intended for physical, mental and emotional self-manipulation. The dogmas, messages and suggestions which coat these tools, guide the practitioner to use them along specific lines. By removing the accompanying speech, it is possible uses them in other ways.
Whatever the protocol, the meditation principles are always the same. The body must remain still. One can perform yoga or any other warm-up exercise, so that the body can remain as long as possible, without showing too much discomfort or pain.
During a meditation without visualization, the attention should focus on a neutral object. This can be a part of the body, a feeling like the breath for instance, an image or a sound ... Whatever the spot, the intellect must stick to it and the emotions shouldn't wander. In this case, the body, mind and emotions must remain motionless, whatever happens.
During a meditation with visualization, the attention is focused on an emotional subject. It may be a concept, a spiritual representation, an imaginary scenario ... The mind focuses intensely on the subject, in order to exacerbate or alleviate the emotions. In this case, the body remains motionless, the intellect is a straight track and the emotions are freely stimulated.
The stillness of the body is essential in meditation. The body and the emotions daily work together. Indeed, the emotions always have a physical manifestation and faking a physically gesture may raise the corresponding emotion. For instance if I'm nervous, my fist are clenched and my jaw tighten as the emotion occurs. But, if I am perfectly calm, clenching my fist and tighting the jaws for a little while, may eventually make me nervous, because faking the manifestation causes the emotion.
Standing physically still during the meditation is a great exercise, in order to learn how to separate the emotions from their physical manifestations. This separation can then be used daily. The delay between the emotions onset and their physical manifestation increases gradually. This small buffer enables to involve the intellect, instead of impotently undergoing the whole emotional unfoldment. This is how I use the benefits of meditation.
For instance, when I hit my little toe against the table foot (ping! it hurts, huh?), instead of shouting "Ouuuuch! Fuuuuck!", I close my eyes and I focus calmly on the pain. I observe all the unpleasant sensations without trying to lower them, letting the tears flow if they come. I feel the stinging beats in the toe, the adrenaline that heats the chest and accelerates the heartbeat. I mentally think "Oh, fuck! It hurts, huh? Can you feel it?" until all the sensations disappear. What's the point?
It is so useful. For instance to avoid tension. The tension amplifies pain, making it lasting longer. In the case of a recurring pain, the tension turns into a permanent muscle tension and the nerves are constantly on edge. We may tend to have muscle inflammations in parts like the back or the neck, if a nervous shock occurs. It can also be used as a gradual training to remain calm and lucid, while facing more and more significant physical, intellectual or emotional impacts. It is very convenient to avoid panic, impulsive outbursts, the many and varied crises, to moderate the addictions... When I'm trapped in a public and dramatic situation, I imagine myself yelling, all guts out, bang with my fists, crying. Thanks to the buffer, I avoid the physical manifestation of these internal effusions, so that no one notices anything. Externally my face and body remain quiet. Once the anxiety is gone, I can think calmly to find solutions.
This delay between the emotion and its physical manifestation can be used to improve a lot of things in the daily life and in the long term. I have succeeded in getting rid of spontaneous vomiting, after 22 years of suffering. After a 2 hours non-stop intensive meditation, this illness is gone definitively, while all other methods had failed. It was spectacular and so liberating. At that moment I realized that I'd better willingly use the benefits of meditation, rather than letting the outside dictate me how to the use it.
In this context, it seems to me that a truly effective meditation must include at least half an hour of total physical stillness. If there is not health impedement, it's better to stay more than one hour, without waving a single hair. I recently discovered the work of Dr. Roger Vittoz. It seems to me that his exercises can be a great mental workout, which benefits are similar to those of meditation. To be continued ...
I consider it to be the opposite of meditation, because it is about deeply releaving the body, to cancel any physical, intellectual or emotional effort. Apart from a nap on the beach, I know only two practices which lead to this state, without any external help.
First, the yoga position, called Savasana, the corpse position. There are different variations to this posture. It mainly consists in lying flat on the back, to review the whole body in order to relax the muscle tensions one by one, to then completely relax. It is better to avoid falling asleep, since it aims at teaching to the body to relax willingly when it is awake.
The other technique taught me a lot in terms of relaxation. It is the autogenic training of Dr. Johannes Heinrich Schultz. I discovered his work when I was a student. This allowed me to cure painful back inflammations. The back specialists told me that only surgery could cure me. Indeed, according to my clinical tests, I have a scoliosis, a lordosis, a hips tilt, a reversal of the neck curve and a spina bifida occulta. Sometimes the pain was so intense that I couldn't move my legs and I had to walk with crutches. By practising the autogenic training 3 times a day for 3 months, I have succeeded in definitely getting rid of the crutches. It seems to me that the general and deep relaxation of the body enables it to manage the physical impedements, to compensate the defects with great success.
I find that the autogenic training is far more effective than the yoga posture, because the body is gradually guided towards relaxation, while in Savasana, it must fend for itself to guess what relaxation means. A particularly tensed person can only get impatient and more tensed, waiting for the posture to end. With the autogenic training, the relaxation is reached step by step, the path is clearly marked, one can actually feel the relaxation spreading gradually in the body. Littel bonus, one can fall asleep at the end of the session.
Relaxing on a massage table or in a spa, why not? There is no harm in treating onself right. But it also seems important to learn to relax alone, voluntarily, without any external assistance or support, in order not to become dependent in such an important part of the life. After several months of rigorous practice, the autogenic training becomes automatic. It can be practiced anywhere, any time, provided one can just lie or sit down. It can be practiced at night before falling sleep or in the morning before getting out of bed. The little daily waiting times can be turned into discrete sessions of highly beneficial exercises.
It seems to me that meditation and relaxation are complementary, inseparable and indispensable. It is funny to note that the autogenic training is based on the reverse mechanism of meditation. Indeed it is about faking the physical manifestations of relief, in order to trigger the onset of this condition. And it works! By clenching my fists, I can get nervous for no reason. By suggesting vasodilation, I can relax for no reason either. Thus, through meditation I separate the emotion from the event, through autogenic training I stick the event to the emotion. So I have 2 opposite tools. One allows me to block the expression of emotions, without denying them or suffocate. The other allows me to put myself in a chosen emotional state.
Separation and gathering. Contraction and relaxation. Tension and relaxation. Focus and expansion. Action and rest. Control and passivity. The daily balance requires the harmonious and voluntary alternating of these 2 opposite states.
With meditation, I use my resources to work efficiently in the world.
With relaxation, I let the laws of nature work mysteriously in me.