Knowing when to rest is a deep practice. Sometimes we try too hard in our practice or we work too much without mindfulness; thus we become tired very easily. The practice of mindfulness should not be tiring; rather, it should be energizing. If when we recognize that we are tired, we should find every means possible to rest. Ask for help from your friends, family, coworkers, or sangha. Practicing with a tired body and mind does not help. In fact, it can cause more problems. To take care of yourself is to take care of the whole sangha. Resting may mean to stop what you are doing and take a five-minute walk outside, to go on a fast for a day or two, or to practice Noble Silence for a period. There are many ways for us to rest, so please pay attention to the rhythm of your body and mind for the benefit of all. Deep Relaxation is a practice of resting. Mindful breathing, whether in the sitting or in the lying position, is the practice of resting. Let us learn the art of resting and allow our body and our mind to restore themselves. Not thinking and not doing anything is an art of resting and healing.
Taking care of our body is an important practice. We need our body to be healthy in order for us to practice. Mindful Movements and Deep Relaxation can support our health and happiness in the practice, and keep us in touch with our body.
Each day we can practice the Ten Mindful Movements, which is an opportunity for us to unite our mind and body. We enjoy opening our body, stretching up to the sky, and releasing down to touch the ground. We do every exercise with the awareness of our breathing and of our action. We find a sense of balance and flexibility in our own body and mind. We practice in a relaxed way, not straining to gain anything.
Practicing Deep Relaxation as a community, led by an experienced practitioner, creates a wonderful energy of peace and harmony. It is a practice of totally letting go and returning back to take care of our body and mind. We use the breath as our anchor to help us. Our breath is also like a wave, gently rocking us into a deep peace. In this state of rest, our body and mind can release their burdens. A lot of healing happens just by letting go and sinking into this state of total relaxation. After practicing guided Deep Relaxation, we may use these techniques anytime we need to rest.
Practicing Mindful Movements and Deep Relaxation allows us to listen deeply to our bodies. We learn to be gentle with ourselves and to give ourselves space to understand and to grow. Practicing in this way, our body becomes our friend and not a burden to our practice. Compassion towards ourselves will penetrate into our interactions with others. How we walk, move, sit, stand, and hold our body are reflections of our states of mind. When we move with ease, others around us will also feel light and relaxed in our presence.
Deep Relaxation Exercise
Lie down on your back with your arms at your sides (you may also practice in a sitting position). Make yourself comfortable. Allow your body to relax. Be aware of the floor underneath you and of the contact of your body with the floor. (Pause)
Allow your body to sink into the floor. (Pause)
Become aware of your breathing, in and out. Be aware of your abdomen rising and falling as you breathe in and out…rising…falling…rising…falling. (Pause)
Breathing in, bring your awareness to your eyes. Breathing out, allow your eyes to relax. Allow your eyes to sink back into your head…let go of the tension in all the tiny muscles around your eyes…our eyes allow us to see a paradise of form and color…allow your eyes to rest…send love and gratitude to your eyes. (Pause)
Breathing in, bring your awareness to your mouth. Breathing out, allow your mouth to relax. Release the tension around your mouth…your lips are the petals of a flower…let a gentle smile bloom on your lips…smiling releases the tension in the hundreds of muscles in your face…feel the tension release in your cheeks…your jaw…your throat. (Pause)
Breathing in, bring your awareness to your shoulders. Breathing out, allow your shoulders to relax. Let them sink into the floor…let all the accumulated tension flow into the floor… we carry so much with our shoulders…now let them relax as we care for our shoulders. (Pause)
Breathing in, become aware of your arms. Breathing out, relax your arms. Let your arms sink into the floor…your upper arms…your elbows…your lower arms…your wrists…hands…fingers…all the tiny muscles…move your fingers a little if you need to, to help the muscles relax. (Pause)
Breathing in, bring your awareness to your heart. Breathing out, allow your heart to relax. (Pause) Our heart beats for us night and day…embrace your heat with mindfulness and tenderness…reconciling and taking care of your heart. (Pause)
Breathing in, bring your awareness to your legs. Breathing out, allow your legs to relax. Release all the tension in your legs…your thighs…your calves…your ankles…your feet…your toes…all the tiny muscles in your toes…you may want to move your toes a little to help them relax…send your love and care to your toes. (Pause)
Breathing in, breathing out…my whole body feels lights…like duck weed floating on the water…I have nowhere to go…nothing to do…I am free as the cloud floating in the sky. (Pause)
(Music or silence for a few minutes)
Bring your awareness back to your breathing…to your abdomen rising and falling. (Pause)
Following your breathing, become aware of your arms and legs…you may want to move them a little and stretch. (Pause)
When you feel ready, slowly sit up. (Pause)
When you are ready, slowly stand up.
In the above exercise, you can guide awareness to any part of the body–the hair, scalp, brain, ears, neck, lungs, each of the internal organs, the digestive system, pelvis, and any other part of the body that needs healing and attention, embracing each part and sending love, gratitude, and care as we hold it in our awareness and breathe in and out.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body (Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press, 2008).
Thich Nhat Hanh, The World We Have (Berkeley, Calif.: Parallax Press, 2008)