Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 1: How do we know that the body is tight and needs to be relaxed?Everyone wants to "relax", but just can't make it. What went wrong? What really needs to be relaxed? Is it the body, or is it the mind? Venerable Guo Xing, the Abbot of Chan Meditation Center and Dharma Drum Retreat Center in New York, answered some common doubts and misunderstandings about "relaxation" one by one, in the hopes of helping everyone relax physically and mentally.
Question 1: How do we know that the body is tight and needs to be relaxed?
A: First of all, you must have the capacity to be aware of it. Usually, our minds are looking outward, and rarely pay attention to the body. Our mind comes into contact with the Six Objects* through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and consciousness (the Six Organs). The eyes see people, things, objects, and various sights; the ears hear birds chirping, rain sounds, and human voices; the nose pays attention all kinds of odors ranging from floral to stinky smells; the tongue's attention is on sour, sweet, bitter, and spicy flavors; the consciousness stays on our experiences, thoughts, judgments, plans and memories, etc.
* The Six Objects are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and non-sensuous objects.
As long as we are in contact with the outside world, using the body's various sensory perceptions may cause it to tense up. For example, when typing on a keyboard and staring at the computer screen, our eyes become tight; if our sitting posture is incorrect, the body is also tight. Because our attention is fixed on the computer, we ignore the various messages sent by the body. Usually, the attention will not return to the body until the eyes are dry, the shoulders are sore, or the body can't bear it. In other words, it's not that the body didn't send out warning signs, but it's that we pay too much attention to form, sound, smell, taste, touch, and dharma.
How do we know if our body is tight or relaxed? First, the mind must draw its attention back to the various sensations corresponding to the body, such as cold, heat, soreness, pain, itching, numbness, satiety, hunger, etc. The first step of awareness can be started from practicing "Dharma Drum Eight-Form Moving Meditation", which guides us to "be clearly aware of the sensations of stretching" and to "be clearly aware of the relaxation of the whole body". Through extending or stretching, our attention will naturally return back to the body. When we are aware of the sensations of the body, it may not be able to relax immediately, but at least the tension in the body will not worsen.
When walking, waiting for the bus, taking the MRT, or waiting for the computer to turn on, we can practice bringing our attention back to our body. Once we make this a habit, we will be aware of that we are standing up when we stand up, and that we are bending over when we bend over. Being clearly aware of what we're doing is the foundation of meditation -- mindfulness of the body (kāyānupassanā, in Pali). Be aware of your state first, then the next step is to relax.
Relaxation and Ease of Mind
Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 1: How do we know that the body is tight and needs to be relaxed?
Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 2: Why is it easy to become drowsy when relaxing?
Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 3: Does relaxation mean thinking and doing nothing?
Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 4: I know I want to relax, but I just can't make it. What should I do?
Q&A about Relaxing the Body and Mind - Question 5: How is relaxation different from letting go and spacing out?
Relaxation for Recovery of Body-mind Balance
Physical and mental relaxation strategies
Resource: Issue 353 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Photos: Issue 353 of Life Magazine, Dharma Drum Publishing Corporation
Translation: James Hsu
Editing: Keith Brown, YKL