Conscious tensions can be relaxed when attention is paid to them. But unconscious tensions are not so easily resolved, because to resolve them is itself attention. Over some fifty years ago there was a record by an American band, in which each line ended with the shouted chorus Relax, Relax, RELAX !!! and this against a background of what were then called screaming trumpets. It’s popularity did not last very long.
Besides the physical tensions there are underlying mental tensions which can be relaxed to some extent by conscious distraction. But below these are deep unconscious tensions that cannot be easily located. When we cannot find them we cannot relieve them and they, from below the surface, produce mental, nervous and physical tensions of there own. Screaming trumpets, whether emotional or physical, have no effect.
The relevance of all this to Yoga practice can be understood by looking first at the physical level. When someone has habitual restless tension in the legs or chest, the trainer does not say, “Relax”. On the contrary, the instruction is given, “Tense those muscles even more, as much as you can.” In this way willed and involuntary tensions come to one. Then as the patient gets tired, the direction comes, “Now slowly give up your effort and feel yourself melting like ice-cream in the sun.” Because all the tensions have been brought to a single awareness it is easy for the unconscious ones to drop away along with the conscious.
From this hint we can learn an application to unconscious mental tensions. In yoga people are taught to concentrate on an object on some attractive and inspiring figure. Nervous people sometimes say, “Oh, I simply cannot do that sort of thing. I feel too tired to make the effort.” The teacher says: “Make the effort strongly and be tired. Put yourself vividly in the presence of the spiritual figure you are worshipping and hold yourself there. After a practice of a few weeks you will realise that you are indeed in that presence now you make no more effort but you are supported and surrounded by grace. You will find your deep seated anxieties melting away.
© Trevor Leggett