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Understanding Tension and Relaxation during Meditation


When we take time to stop our projects and carefully inspect our bodies with our attention, we can all recognize how our body and mind do not function independently from each other. This is so even if we are making every effort to outwardly conceal our inner state - in fact trying to appear relaxed when we are tense will only increase the dysfunction and strain in our bodies. Outwardly, even if we learned to hide our embarrassment, disappointment, excitement and pleasure - inside our heart rate, blood pressure, and digestive functioning will not be pacified with force. When we carry suppressed tension in the body for many years, eventually this rigidity cracks giving way to illness and injury.

For those who are chronically anxious, depressed, angry or over excited, it is actually much harder for them to feel how this tension is being carried in their bodies although they may feel resulting pain. Only when we learn to deeply relax in a state of clear awareness, can we see how tension has gripped and impeded the natural functioning of our bodies. One technique commonly used in meditation to help to identify and release tension is to slowly and intently scan the body from the crown of the head to the bottoms of the feet. Guided meditation using this technique can work very well with both those, new to meditation, and those with years of experience. When we are instructed to release tension in parts of the body we might not normally associate with carrying tension it can help our whole body to relax. In order to soften the muscles around the eyes we must relax the entire face - to relax the tongue we must relax the jaw and muscles around the skull. In fact we might say to relax one part of our body completely, we must relax our entire body.

Here is an example of a body scan deep relaxation guided meditation

The amplifying relationship of muscular tension and pain

When we feel pain in the body the areas around this pain become tense as our deep rooted instincts to protect a potential injury kick in. With acute pain, the entire body becomes tense with teeth, hands, eyes and even toes clenched. This can happen without us being aware of it.
Conversely when tension builds, pain soon follows as muscles become sore and fatigued. Pain and muscular tension go hand in hand.

Tension is an active state requiring energy to sustain it. Acute pain becomes very exhausting because of the huge amount of energy needed to maintaining tension in the whole body. Because of this amplifying relationship, when sympathetic tension around pain is noticed and released, pain also losses its power. Tension in the body as discussed earlier is also a result of psychological pain, and likewise, when we bring our attention into the body and allow tension to dissipate, so too will anxiety decrease. When we feel safe, accepted and loved, tension in the body naturally falls away. This is very simple and clear for anyone to observe. When we look a little closer however, we see that physical and mental tension, body and mind have never been separate. Without a body we cannot experience emotion. Anxiety and joy are not just experienced in the head, but are directly experience as the body. 

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