Letter 43: Stilling the body

Sometimes when you are much stressed you may need to do more than just watching the breath. Here is a simple and short exercise to relax the body before meditation.

Put all your attention on your scalp, a major carrier of our stress; put your total concentration on what you can feel in your scalp. You may want to move your eyebrows or your ears to become aware that you actually do have a scalp. Focus all your awareness there. How does it feel? What can you feel? Can you feel anything? Become your scalp. Breathe in gently and breathe out and let go of all tension and stress there. Put your scalp at ease. Gently repeat this several times, always breathing in gently and breathing out long and relaxed and let go.

Now put your attention on your face, especially on the frowning points between the eyebrows, around the nose and mouth. We tend to frown, pinch our nose and purse our lips more than we know. Put all of your attention there. Become aware of what you do. Move the muscles in your face. It doesn’t matter. No one is looking! Now really frown, scrunch up your face. Then widen your face, relax the muscles. The half-smile we see on the Buddha’s face is not a smile as such, but a totally relaxed face. Breathe in gently and let go off all the tension in your face. Just breathe out and let go. Breathing in gently and breathing out long, relaxed and let go.

Now put all your awareness on your mouth, tongue and jaws. Where is your tongue? Against the roof of your mouth? This is a sure sign of tension and readiness to talk. Let it drop. Let it fall gently to where it naturally wants to be. Your jaws? Are they clenched? Let them go. Put your awareness on the point where your jaws are connected, just under your ears. Put all your awareness there and breathe in gently and breathe out and let go. Just let them go. The mouth is closed but totally relaxed.

Once more check your scalp, your face, your tongue, and your jaws.

Now put your awareness on your shoulders. How do they feel? Move them up and down to become aware of how you hold them. Breathe in gently and breathe them down. It is amazing, how far down they will go! Just keep your awareness there and breathe out and let go.

How is your neck? Does it feel relaxed? Look up at the ceiling by tilting your head back, slowly as if against some resistance, then let it drop forward totally relaxed and free. Do this two more times and during the last one instead of letting your head drop forward, let the back of your neck grow and grow. Without having done anything else your chin will be gently tucked in and as the Fathers of the Eastern Christian tradition said then your beard will tickle your chest! Then the neck is at ease, gently in line with your spine.

Check your posture now. Are you balanced? Do you feel really grounded on your chair or on the floor? No need to fight gravity, just relax and trust and let go. Every time you breathe out, think of roots growing down into the earth from you. Take your time to ground yourself. And then think of your spine like a flower growing up to the sun. Two opposite movements are happening. Down with gravity and up towards the sun

If the head and shoulders are at ease, the rest of the body will follow. But check for any tension in your arms and legs, especially the calves of your legs. Our legs work all the time and often we hold them tensed and ready to move, even when it is not necessary. Just tense and then relax the muscles of the parts of your arms and legs in rolling succession, constantly with total awareness. Every time your attention goes, just gently bring it back to whatever part of the body you are focusing on, breathing in gently and breathing out and letting go.

Check once more in your own time and at your own speed right over your body from your scalp to your feet. Put your body at ease. If there is any pain or discomfort, put your whole awareness there. Feel the pain. How does it feel, burning, nagging, sharp? Really become aware of it, acknowledge it, then breathe in gently to that spot and then breathe out and let go. Just let go.

Now your body is totally at ease, ready for meditation.

Kim Nataraja

Adapted from ‘Dancing with Your Shadow’