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Two Ways of Learning Relaxation

--by Shinzen Young (Jul 19, 2011)


There are two ways of learning relaxation, because there are two distinct levels at which a person can relax. I speak of top-to-bottom relaxation versus bottom-to-top relaxation. "Top" refers to the surface conscious mind, "bottom" the deep unconscious.

Top-to-bottom relaxation is what most people think of when they think of relaxation. It's voluntary relaxation, like a progressive relaxation where you make an effort to relax. When a person sits to meditate I think it is good to do whatever possible to relax the overall body. I usually try to get an overall sense of the body relaxing. I call it a "settled-in" sense. For example, I notice that during sitting sometimes my shoulders will come up, so I'll relax them as an act of conscious intention.

This form of relaxation, although it's valid and useful, is also limited, because there are certain things that you can't relax intentionally, like the kind of intense sensations that come up when you stub your toe. You can't go through a progressive relaxation, and just relax the sensations going on in your stubbed toe. And what about the sensations that go with a stubbed ego? For that type of phenomenon, it is desirable to learn about a second kind of relaxation which I call bottom-to-top.

Bottom-to-top relaxation deals with the source of tension which is deep within the unconscious mind and way out of the range of conscious control. How can you relax tensions that are not within conscious control? By observing them with skill. "Skill" means heightened awareness, a sense of accepting the tension as is. Bottom-to-top relaxation is an attitude. You watch the tension very, very carefully. You get very specific in terms of location, shape, flavor, rates of change, etc. You just keep pouring awareness and equanimity, awareness and equanimity on the tension pattern.

That tension pattern is a conduit into the unconscious mind. By flooding the tension area with the "super-adult" qualities of "witness awareness" you are helping the unconscious infant/animal levels of the mind to untie their own "knots". The tension pattern will start to break up on its own. Paradoxically, the quickest way to have it break up is to stop wanting it to break up. The attitude of wanting it to break up adds subtle new knots. For the really deep relaxation, a person has to be willing to watch tension in a skillful way, without desiring relaxation.

--Shinzen Young, in an interview with Charles Tart

 


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7 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jul 22, 2011 Dinesh wrote:

Some audio clips from last week's circle of sharing (and a special thanks to Bhikhsu Samata and Ajahn Ghun for joining us!) ...



On Jul 21, 2011 Student of life wrote:

Great insight, my own spiritual practices have made me aware of the different top down and bottom up approaches however it will be helpful to have this clearer understanding for explanations.

 

Thanks

 



On Jul 19, 2011 Allan wrote:

The only way to relax is to relax. While you can add layers to your thoughts about relaxing, explore it in thought and discuss the various knots and relaxing from inside-out, top-down, bottom-up and whatever permutations of relaxation you can think of, the basic error is thinking. You cannot achieve relaxation with the chattering mind.

So. If you want to relax - then relax. Become the relaxation. There is nothing else.



On Jul 18, 2011 Conrad wrote:

The the idea of renouncing all attachment to relaxation in order to get to deep relaxation brings up mixed feelings and thoughts for me. I'm skeptical about any idea being away to relaxation and peacefulness. Renouncing is more than an idea. Renouncing attachment is something worthwhile to help one be aware of what is. The idea sounds great but I sometimes think if I had one more and better idea, peace, harmony and relaxation would arise. Noticing that one is attached to ideas rather than action and peaceful attitudes may be worthwhile. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond. You and all your readers have my gratitude.



On Jul 18, 2011 Edit Lak wrote:

Interesting.   I have sat pondering about this.. And yes, so true, that awareness and a "heightened" awareness brings relaxation and a deeper sense of self.  But there is also a truth that "experience" of relaxation takes some years to accomplish, by some form of a crashing/suffering/learning in life. I love the analogy given, that a child falls many times before it walks, and so does an adult fall many times before he/she can relax. It's not a miracle that happens to attain it.  It's a determination to "achieve" as we watch others also fall. Watching isnt entirely the experience, it's the fall and get up, but between those two is the "will" to make the get up happen. As we know you can read a book and get a good understanding of the text or story line, but unless you speak to the author, publicist or the inspiration -- muse behind the story, that's when one fully understand the entirety of the whole story, that's when it all f  See full.

Interesting.   I have sat pondering about this..

And yes, so true, that awareness and a "heightened" awareness brings relaxation and a deeper sense of self.  But there is also a truth that "experience" of relaxation takes some years to accomplish, by some form of a crashing/suffering/learning in life.

I love the analogy given, that a child falls many times before it walks, and so does an adult fall many times before he/she can relax. It's not a miracle that happens to attain it.  It's a determination to "achieve" as we watch others also fall. Watching isnt entirely the experience, it's the fall and get up, but between those two is the "will" to make the get up happen.

As we know you can read a book and get a good understanding of the text or story line, but unless you speak to the author, publicist or the inspiration -- muse behind the story, that's when one fully understand the entirety of the whole story, that's when it all falls into place... So to experience a complete relaxation (top to bottom) takes "life" and "mistakes"..

My experiences to achieve true relaxation is not of two fold, but rather of a "life" fold, as we have to become the "one", the comfortable, the accepting and the willing to receive such a gift of relaxation from a  "nothingness". Yes, when you know there is nothing coming, its when one stops thinking and then starts breathing, and so true, much of a fuller life, relaxation, love, awareness and pure manifestations come from a relaxed state of being nothingness. This has happened to most people at one stage or another, but we lose sight of that peaceful, relaxation magnificence -- and call it boring -- so were off to have a coffee with someone else that's 'bored' instead of being,or being together and resting the soul for total conscious awareness to question thoughts and develop, so when the passion bug of insightfulness takes over, we can then achieve a greater good in relaxation to achieve a purpose of oneness in relaxation.

Sounds mighty good - I'm trying for that ;-) It's all easier said than done, because the world we live in today has many man-made-self distractions, Isn't that funny, we deliberately sabotage the pure purpose of being and of what we are trying to achieve in awareness. Hmm... But a childs step is one at a time, so relaxing me can help to relax you, and then we can try to relax the world :-) Much love, thought and happiness..

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On Jul 17, 2011 navin sata wrote:

Our bodies, minds and spirits are interconnected -- when we are in touch our true self then we do thing out of good will and a good spirit that results in a calm state of mind.  As long as we maintain the daily habit of controlling our SELFISH EGO, we will learn to stay with a sense of inner peace resulting in relaxation.  Knots are roots in our inner & outer conscious bodies.  Living a righteous life with positive virtues and a healthy diet alongside healthy physical & mental habits are a must for a good life! Here are few things that have been helpful for me ....  Accept Differences     Be Kind     Celebrate Nature     Dream     Express Thanks Forgive     Go Green    Harm No One     Imagine     Join the Movement Keep confidences      Love truly     M  See full.

Our bodies, minds and spirits are interconnected -- when we are in touch our true self then we do thing out of good will and a good spirit that results in a calm state of mind. 

As long as we maintain the daily habit of controlling our SELFISH EGO, we will learn to stay with a sense of inner peace resulting in relaxation.  Knots are roots in our inner & outer conscious bodies.  Living a righteous life with positive virtues and a healthy diet alongside healthy physical & mental habits are a must for a good life!

Here are few things that have been helpful for me .... 

Accept Differences     Be Kind     Celebrate Nature     Dream     Express Thanks

Forgive     Go Green    Harm No One     Imagine     Join the Movement

Keep confidences      Love truly     Master something     Nurture hope

Open your mind     Plant a tree    Question the status quo     Recycle

Seek wisdom     Touch hearts     Use the bus     Value truth     Walk every day

Xeriscape     Yearn for Peace.......Zealously protect Mother Earth!!!

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On Jul 17, 2011 rahul wrote:

An important element in skillfully watching tension is tremendous humility, patience and kindness towards oneself.  I've found that when I'm seriously working on my edges, the challenges I'm confronted with are just beyond the range of my capacity to endure with equanimity.  While it is very true that strength and stability comes from overcoming these obstacles, its also true that I stumble and fall often (and I don't think I'm alone).  When I'm able to forgive myself and bring patience and kindness to my failure to be equanamous, that's the impetus to keep working with these challenges.  Lack of humility, patience and self-kindness is a dead-end that stops all progress.Anyone has seen a baby learn how to walk can appreciate the idea that if we had to take on such an analogously challenging endeavor in our adult lives, many of us would simply rule it out as impossible.  How many times does a child fall before it can even walk across a room?  The key is to  See full.

An important element in skillfully watching tension is tremendous humility, patience and kindness towards oneself.  I've found that when I'm seriously working on my edges, the challenges I'm confronted with are just beyond the range of my capacity to endure with equanimity.  While it is very true that strength and stability comes from overcoming these obstacles, its also true that I stumble and fall often (and I don't think I'm alone).  When I'm able to forgive myself and bring patience and kindness to my failure to be equanamous, that's the impetus to keep working with these challenges.  Lack of humility, patience and self-kindness is a dead-end that stops all progress.


Anyone has seen a baby learn how to walk can appreciate the idea that if we had to take on such an analogously challenging endeavor in our adult lives, many of us would simply rule it out as impossible.  How many times does a child fall before it can even walk across a room?  The key is to get up and keep trying.  Paramahansa Yogananda said, "A saint is a sinner who never gave up."

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