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Tense and Release for the Whole Body

Introduction

          Most people carry tension in their muscles that they’re not aware of and don’t need. Chronically tense muscles use up energy that you could be putting to more constructive use.     Over time, they can drain your energy, and make you tired and less effective in your endeavors.  They can cause aches and pains that interfere with your ability to concentrate, and create imbalances in your autonomic nervous system.  So there are many reasons why knowing how to release tension is a valuable skill to cultivate. 

Overview

          Because you may not be aware of where you’re holding tension, in this first relaxation exercise, you’ll start by exaggerating the tension in order to help you become more aware of it.   Basically, you’ll be going through your body part by part – tensing up each part as you inhale, holding the tension for a second or two, and then releasing the tension as you exhale.  Using ocean breathing will make the exercise more powerful.

Preparation

          Get into a comfortable position and begin to take a few slow, deep ocean breaths in and out.

Instructions

          Bring your attention to your head. Take a deep breath in, and as you do, gently tense up your face and your scalp.  Hold your breath and hold the tension for a brief moment, and now exhale slowly, releasing the tension.

          Again, breathe in, tensing up your face, and your scalp ... hold the breath... and exhale slowly releasing the tension.  

          This time breathe in without tensing, and as you exhale, continue releasing tension from your face and your whole head. And then let your breath return to normal.  Take a moment to just observe the sensations in your head and your face.



          Now shift your attention into your arms - all the way from your shoulders to the tips of your fingers.  Take a deep breath in, and as you do, gently stiffen your arms, making a fist with your hands.  Hold the breath and the tension for a moment.  Now exhale slowly releasing the tension.

          Again, breathe in, gently tensing both arms... hold the breath... and exhale releasing the tension.  

          This time breathe in without tensing, and as you exhale, continue to release tension from your arms and your hands.  And let your breath return to normal.   Take a moment to observe the sensations in your shoulders, arms, and hands.



          Now shift your attention to the front of your torso. Take a deep breath in, and as you do, gently lift your chest up and squeeze your belly in.  Hold your breath, and hold the tension for a moment, now exhale slowly releasing the tension. 

          One more time - breathe in, lifting the chest and contracting the belly... hold the breath... and now, exhale releasing the tension.

          This time breathe in without tensing, and as you exhale continue to release tension from your chest and your belly.  And let your breath return to normal. Take a moment to just observe the sensations in your torso.



          Now shift your attention into your back.  Take a deep ocean breath in, and as you do, gently pull back your shoulders and arch your back.  Hold your breath and hold the tension… now exhale slowly releasing the tension. 

          Again, breathe in, shoulders back, arch your back... hold... and exhale fully, releasing the tension.

          This time breathe in without tensing, and as you exhale let your back relax even more.  Then let your breath return to normal. And take a moment to observe the sensations in your back.



          Now shift your attention into your legs and feet. Take a deep breath in, and as you do, gently flex your feet, and tense up your legs and your buttocks.   Hold the breath, hold the tension, and now exhale slowly releasing the tension.  Once again, breathe in, gently tensing your feet, legs and buttocks... hold the breath... and now, exhale slowly releasing the tension. This time breathe in without tensing, and as you exhale continue to release tension from your legs and your buttocks.  And let your breath return to normal. Now take a moment to observe the sensations in your legs and feet.



         Now bring your attention into your whole body.  As you inhale, very gently tense the body all the way from your head to your feet, hold for a second, and now exhale very slowly, releasing the tension.  Breathe in without tensing, and as you slowly exhale, let your body continue to release and relax. One more breath in, and as you exhale fully, let the body relax even more deeply.

Transition

          Take a moment or two to experience how your body feels. Don’t be concerned about or judge what you observe - just be a compassionate witness to whatever it is you're experiencing.  

          Now slowly open your eyes and sit quietly for a moment.  As you return to your activities, you might try moving a little more slowly than usual so that you can continue to observe how your body feels. See if you notice any tendency to tense up muscles – in your face, or your shoulders, or any place that isn’t required for your movements.  And if you do notice yourself starting to tense up, you can gently invite your body to let the tension go.