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  • Writer's pictureAntje

5 Points of Hatha Yoga: Relax! don't do it, relax!

Old salt pens North Coast Gozo, Yoga with Nature session, yogis enjoying an unusual yet very effective  way of Savasana
Savasana - corpse pose - Gozo style

There are probably not many sentences that make me more furious than "Relax! Take it easy!" Especially when I DO feel excited, upset, nervous, afraid, stressed, angry.

If any of the emotions is present that describe the opposite of "relaxed", and somebody asks me to relax, a fire of tension, anger, stress, flares up within me and wants to shout out "SHUT UP!!!". Sounds very yogic and relaxed, right..?

Or do YOU follow the advice to relax easily and put magically a loving smile for yourself (and the person who gave you the advice to relax) on your face, thank him or her for the consideration and feel all tension, frustration, excitement, anger simply melt away?

Be honest. If you do, please send me the recipe of what you're having for breakfast (not what you smoke).

I may assume in many of us (unless they take the magic breakfast...) it's the opposite that happens. Anger, tension, stress flare up all together, making it even harder to breathe, to stay calm, to simply feel present. In German we even have an expression for it: "Ich bin ausser mir" - "I am outside of myself". A very good picture I find.

In Hatha Yoga, one of the 5 Points is "Proper Relaxation". But what does that mean? How do we get there, into this realm that so often seems to be inaccessible when we need it most?

On a superficial level, Relaxation is different for every body

The snake - partof AquaFlow session with client flowing under water with a nose clip, holding her breathe, completely trusting and feeling relaxed

I once had an AquaFlow client who did not want to commit for a session in the wonderfully warm (relaxing.. ;-) ) pool. When we met and had a chat to get to know each other, her first question was "Do I HAVE to relax?? I can't do it!!!" And I could see the exclamation marks at the end of her words spilling out of her mouth.

My simple reply was "No. You don't have to do anything." You don't even have to relax."

Guess what? Yes, she agreed to a session and loved it. Simply because the pressure was off. The pressure to "perform" or to "do" something.

Another time I gave a water session to a man who lay on the water like a plank of wood. In the water it's easy to sense the physical as well as the mental and emotional tension and stress of the other. Even if it's deeply buried and is not felt or sensed by the client himself.

The first thing the client said after one hour of gentle movement in the warm water: "Ï never felt sooo relaxed!". To me he still felt like a plank of wood, however with some very subtle soft edges.

Yoga Session during Freediving Yoga Retreat with Antje Lewerenz

The simple truth:

You cannot MAKE or DO relaxation.

Neither for yourself nor for somebody else. Similar to Love. You cannot MAKE love or make somebody love you (yeahh, I know, the lyrics of Frankie Goes To Hollywood - see headline of this blog post - talks about the opposite, but that's not the point here... ;-) )

So what can you do?

You can open a door, create a space where relaxation just happens. And everybody will experience it in a different way.

Hence my interpretation of Sivananda's Hatha Yoga principle of "Proper Relaxation":

The word "proper" means "my own" "individual" "private".

And relaxation is simply the opposite of doing. Just releasing, getting loose. Hence the opposite of changing (but not the opposite of change...) So proper relaxation is a very individual experience of ... being.

So how easy is it for you not do do?

And what is Proper relaxation NOT?

We often mistake "distraction" with "relaxation".

As when we want to relax, we rather re-fill our mind, our senses and our bodies with a lot of stuff:

Films, social media, youtube, whats app, food, drinks, even sports and yes, our yoga practice can be a substitute for proper relaxation too.

All that is part of our "diet". And then we are surprised that it takes even more energy to digest all this "food".

OR we keep trying to relax "consciously". We download the latest meditation apps and mindfulness trainings. Always with the aim to "relax".

We keep doing

We keep doing in order to get way from what we are, we feel, we think right now. And often enough we do not realise anyway that we think and feel.

So how do we get there? Into this wonderland of relaxation, health, and feeling at ease?

Don't go at all

Just stay where you are and start feeling the tension. Sense your clenched teeth, your pulled-up shoulders, your short chest-breaths. See your racing thoughts, plans, tasks, appointments, expectations (your own and those of others), hopes, fears.

You will realise very quickly that it's exactly these thoughts and feelings that settle down in your body as physical tension. As the opposite of relaxation.


Give this physical sensations At-Tension. Allow it. Acknowledge it. Get to know it. Respect it. Sense it. Recognise it as what is it: A sensation in your body, a thought in your mind, an e-motion knocking on the door to your feeling heart. And not reality.

That's the door that slowly dares to open. The door to relaxation. Once you have given it at-tension, the muscles in your body start to loosen up. To soften. By themselves.

That's Being versus Doing. That's when proper relaxation starts happening.

Stop trying to change

No need (and I don't believe that this works anyway) to try to change how you feel, to chase thoughts and feelings away, to direct your thoughts into another (more positive, relaxed) direction). The more you try to get away from it, the more the tension will show off.

Why Savasana is so important

The best effect: You realise how physical relaxation and mental relaxation go hand in hand.

That's why it's so good to bring your body into some stress with physical exercise. That's one reason to practice yoga asanas and challenge our body in difficult postures.

At the end of each yoga session we take time for a proper Savasana. Gliding much more easily from doing into being.

Once we really feel the tension (in yoga asana or off the mat, in "real" life), then we are able to feel the relaxation too.

That's why Savasana feels so different at the beginning at then at the end of your yoga practice. Make a mental note about this the next time you're on the mat.

Dog demonstrating her individual way of relaxation
Why are dogs so relaxed? Because they give a shit about yesterday and tomorrow

And then...?

The more we just stay where we are in any moment, feel our breathing, feel our physical body, see our thoughts, the more we just glide into relaxation. Slip into it. Then we can't "do" otherwise.

And the more we will be able to feel relaxed in difficult, challenging situations too.

And the more we are willing and able to take away some of the sensual triggers that we mistake for helping us to relax.

And the more we get glimpses of "proper relaxation".

And the more we just are. Relaxed. Properly.

And the door is open into the next room that is covered in the 5 principles of Hatha Yoga: "Proper Thinking and Meditation".

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