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  • Writer's pictureJayne Hill

Why can't I relax!

Updated: Feb 4

Sometimes people whisper quietly to me after yoga class; “why can’t I relax?”, as though this is a strange and shameful condition. While lots of people love the relaxation at the close of our yoga practice, it’s surprisingly common for students to worry that they’re either doing something wrong or feel that they’re not good at it.


Relaxation is a skill. You get better at it with practice. Think about it. How often do you practice relaxing? Not asleep. No laptop. No TV. No phone. No book. Just space. Once a week? Maybe?


Our culture rewards busy-ness and productivity. You might (at least subconsciously) think that relaxation is a waste of time. But relaxation is a time when your cells absorb your yoga practice. It settles into your tissues. You rest and digest. So if your digestion isn’t at its best, maybe you need to schedule rest into your diary. Rest doesn’t just help your immune system and healing, it’s essential for you to process experiences and emotions.


Tips to help you to relax


Habit


Your body system does love routine. It’s why going to bed and waking up at the same time every day works so well to regulate your sleep. We’ve got out of the habit of regular rest. Instead we’ve become dopamine addicts. Dopamine is a chemical making you feel satisfaction, pleasure and motivation. You produce it every time you get a notification on your phone or you’re mindlessly scrolling social media. Me? I particularly love ticking things of a list. Now I put relaxation on the list too! Not sure if that's win.


This is why I’m a fan of regular yoga classes and encourage students to enrol for a term. You’re doing the same activity at the same time and with the same intention every week. After a while students relax (and yawn!) as soon as they walk into the door. Be patient. It takes a while for a habit to settle in. Notice if there are other habits or rituals that make you feel a certain way. Are there rituals that you can add to your daily life to help you relax? I make a cup of loose leaf tea every morning and take a pause before I drink it, helps me to focus and ground myself for the day ahead.


Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Thich Naht Hanh

Being comfortable


Ah. Lying on the floor isn’t somewhere we spend much, if any, time except at yoga class. A firm floor beneath you can help to realign your spine in a way that soft squishy mattress just can’t (sorry). Lying down means that all of your body is supported and as importantly, feels supported so your muscles can start to melt into relaxation. If you’re not comfortable, then read the blogs I’ve written are you lying comfortably part one and part two. Don’t be shy about bringing blankets, pillows or cushions to class. I usually have foam blocks for sale too.


If you’ve played with all the padding options and lying on the floor isn’t working for you, consider sitting back to rest against the wall. Being supported is important to help you relax.


Restless body


If you feel like you’re fidgeting instead of finding a zen sense of stillness, don’t panic. Go back to points one and two. Maybe you haven’t found the right posture. Maybe you just need a bit more practice. Or check the next point. It might actually be your mind that’s restless and your body is expressing it.


Restless mind


citta vrtti nirodhah. Patanjali

That means yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind. Please note, there is nothing there about your mind becoming blank or empty. Your mind is awesome and thinking is its super power. Minds think. Stat. It means that instead of your mind being a choppy stormy sea or an emotional rollercoaster, your thoughts become calmer and sort of smoother. Different traditions talk about calming the monkey mind. Technology and social media has made our focus shorter. Once we read novels, now the average video is less than a minute. You might need some practice!


There’s something else that happens when you lie down to relax at the end of yoga. You’re still. And you’re quiet. Suddenly you notice all the loud, crazy thinking going on in your head. It might be the same when you’re trying to sleep. It’s not that anything has changed. It’s more that you’re noticing what’s going on. That’s mindful awareness, not something to tut about.


I find the best way to cut through an over active mind is to tune into my body. How do I feel? Notice with all the senses. Often I need to move – either with a physical posture practice or go for a walk. Lots of people tell me to tune into my breathing. Maybe that will work for you, it doesn’t for me.


All the emotions


You may discover your mind is going over a set of scenarios, replaying conversations, wishing that you’d said or done something different. Then you start feeling anxious or angry or sad or any of the rainbow of emotions. The restless mind suggestions can work. Sometimes you just need to roll with all the thinking without diving too deep into analysis and notice how it’s affecting your body. Do you clench your hands? Frown? Tense your buttocks or your jaw? Notice and do your best to soften the physical effects. That can often soften the mental chatter too.


When you’re on an emotional rollercoaster, you might not feel like you’re relaxing, but you still benefit from the space and stillness. You may feel calmer, even sleepy when you start to move again.


Being bored


Missing that dopamine hit? The stuff is addictive. Remember it keeps us motivated and that’s very important for the survival of the species. I do my best to keep you engaged in the relaxation by talking and with music but it’s ok to be bored. Just be still, listen and follow your breathing.


Something else inside


Don’t underestimate your internal chemistry. Your body is a delicately balanced system and some very simple things can get in the way. Magnesium is burned up by stress. You’ll need extra in challenging times. Check if you need a supplement. If so, take it in the evening. It’s a muscle relaxant and can help you relax and sleep.


Crazy blood sugar peaks and crashes will interrupt your rest. Read up about how to stabilise your blood sugar throughout the day. It’s essential for if you’re diabetic but there are a lot of benefits for us all.


Caffeine. It seems that how quickly your body can process caffeine is down to your genes. Know and respect your own processing capacity. I only sniff a cup of coffee past 11am and I know it’ll mess with my sleep.  It took me many years (and restless nights) to work that out. Remember you’ll find caffeine is in some strange places like some kinds of pain medication and cereal bars. Check the label.


Something outside


Your environment is an important part of your relaxation. Are you warm enough? Is it quiet enough? Some people love a ticking clock. For others it will drive them to distraction. Do you have enough space? Do you feel safe? Are you worried that you’ll be disturbed? Do everything you can (and I will do the same in class) to make sure that you have a relaxing environment. I’m not going to judge you if you do Zoom class relaxation in bed.


What helps you to relax at the end of yoga?


How do you build restful rituals and relaxation into your everyday schedule?


Two people in yoga relaxation from hips to feet

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