Softening

Resistance and tension reside in both our bodies and our minds. These are reactions to stress and uncomfortable situations, but neither are helpful. Think about jumping into water from a height. If you tense up your body, you are bound to break a bone on impact. Loosen the body, and it may hurt to hit the water, but you will resurface unbroken. 

Much in the same way, think about softening your body to stress. Waiting until you’re stressed to practice will not get you very far. Instead, use body scan meditations daily to soften and relax while you’re calm. 

Begin by sitting or laying in a comfortable position. Many meditation teachers will insist the proper way to meditate is in the traditional seated position, but it is my belief that if you’re trying to fully relax the body, you need to be in a posture in which you can fully let go of all tension. 

Close your eyes or leave them open and rest your gaze softly on a spot in front of you. Bring your focus, first, to your breath. Feel the sensation of the breath. Notice if you are feeling your chest rise and fall or if you’re breathing into your belly. Don’t try to change anything, simply observe your natural rhythm. 

Then, bring your awareness to your face. Soften all the muscles of your face with each exhale. From there, move your awareness to each part of the body—neck, shoulders, spine, abdominals, hips, thighs, legs and feet—and soften all the muscles by breathing into the space and allowing the exhale to carry the tension away. 

This is a great exercise for when you’re lying in bed, because not only does it ease tension, it can help you breathe into sleep. And with regular practice of softening the body while you’re calm, you’ll find that you’re able to meet physical tension and resistance due to stress in a more relaxed way. By relaxing the body into stressful times, often the emotions are allowed the space to rise and pass without us trapping them and carrying them around with us. 

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