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Back to Introductory Qigong Articles| Practices

Practices: Relaxation

© Roger Jahnke O.M.D.

When an individual purposefully seeks a state of deep relaxation a number of very important physiological mechanisms are triggered. The relaxed state, which is opposite of what is known as the "fight or flight" state, hyperactivity of the sympathetic nervous system or the stress response, has been called the "relaxation response" by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard University. It has been found that many disease states are aggravated by the over activity of the sympathetic nervous system. It has also been found that inducing the relaxation response can resolve or balance the effects of over activity or stress in the body.

In biofeedback, a highly researched technique for reducing head and neck pain, high blood pressure, syndromes of gastrointestinal discomfort, and anxiety, the primary technique is to initiate and sustain the relaxation response. Research has indicated that the physiological mechanisms that are triggered by inducing the relaxation response are:

  • Enhanced productivity of neurotransmitters.
  • Shift toward a lower frequency of brain wave activity (alpha and theta).
  • Reduction of blood pressure.
  • Warming of the skin surface due to the dilation of blood capillaries.

In meditation practice, in chanting and the use of mantras or in the process of visualization, the induction of the relaxation response precedes and accompanies the successful initiation of each technique. Most of the great spiritual traditions of both the east and west initiate the deeper levels of spiritual practice by eliciting the relaxation response. Dr. Benson himself, when in China to research some of the more fantastic aspects of Qigong, stated that he felt the Qigong effect was triggered by an initial induction of the relaxation response.

At the preliminary level of the self applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM) very simplified but highly effective techniques of progressive relaxation are used. In the more refined practices elaborate systems of visualization may be used, as in the "circulation of the light to refine the body of pure energy." Deep states of altered consciousness may also be achieved by merely remaining mindful of the breath alone. In such practices the individual has refined his or her practice to the extent that the busy mind is quiet. Not generally so easy. This is why we start with the preliminary methods because they are easy to learn and apply. Over time they lead to an ability level that supports more advanced practice.

It is a specific goal, in the self-applied health enhancement methods (SAHEM) of the ancient Asian traditions of health care and medicine to generate and circulate Qi, Prana, life force, bio-energy. In the breath practices above, and the following relaxation practices, a confirmation of success is to feel the Qi. It is very common to experience sensations of heat or tingling in the hands. It may also be sensed as a pouring feeling or a puffiness. The hands are the most sensitive organ or the human body in regards to sensation. It is not unusual that early sensation of the Qi would come in the hands. Once one has begun to have this sensation it should be sought in other parts of the body; the feet, the abdomen around the belly button.

Progressive Relaxation, Option I:

Mentally bring your awareness to and then consciously relax each part of you body, progressively, from the feet all the way up to your head. Your breath should be full and relaxed.

In a comfortable lying position, close your eyes and take 10 slow deep breaths.

Bring your awareness to your right leg. Inhale deeply and lift leg up slightly tensing the foot and leg. Tense up tighter. Exhale and let the leg drop gently. Roll the leg from side to side and relax. Repeat the same for the left leg and foot.

Now raise and tense your arm and make our hand into a fist. Tense up and hold. Exhale and drop the arm. Roll the right arm from side to side. Repeat with the left arm.

Now contract the buttocks. Tighten and release tension. Inhale and fill the abdomen with air, as if you were filling up a balloon. Hold one moment and then exhale fully out of the mouth.

Bring the shoulder blades together in back. Squeeze tightly and release.

Bring both shoulders up to your ears. Hold them up. Exhale and let them down. Repeat 3 times. Now push shoulders downward. Hold and release.

Tighten the facial muscles. Make your face like a prune. Squeeze tightly. Exhale and release tension.

Roll the neck gently from side to side.

Application Suggestions:

  • Health maintenance: 1 to 2 sessions per day.
  • Health enhancement: 2 to 5 sessions per day.
  • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 sessions per day.
  • Getting started: 1 to 2 session per day. Really turn your attention toward gaining a sensation, a genuine perception of the circulation of the blood and energy in your body.

This technique is perfect for those of you who wish to tap the benefits of the self-applied methods but have little prior experience. In every tradition where techniques have been refined over thousands of years to enhance health, it is always notable that the distracted mind is one of the great challenges to the practice. Even the great meditation masters call their daily system of quieting the mind a "practice." It is not a finished product it is a "practice."

This indicates that even the experts are constantly practicing toward successful quieting of the mind and body. This particular technique assure a genuine state of relaxation by actually involving the body parts. In other techniques it is possible to wander to other thoughts because just the mind is involved and it is hard to be conscious of being unconscious. It is fairly obvious, when the next gesture is to contract the muscles in the arm, if you aren't doing it. You have to have said, "I think I'll stop this process." This technique is also excellent for people who have learned some type of relaxation exercise but are struggling to apply it successfully.

Progressive Relaxation, Option II:

The above technique can be approached a bit differently. Remember that one of the important guidelines is to make it up and have it be easy and fun, so feel free to tailor your practice so that it works for you. This may be done either sitting or lying down. The breath is full and relaxed, not urgent. On each exhalation deeply relax and silently affirm the following to yourself:

  • Now my thighs are relaxed.
  • Now my feet are relaxed.
  • Now my calves are relaxed.
  • Now my buttocks are relaxed.
  • Now my hands are relaxed.
  • Now my arms are relaxed.
  • Now my abdomen is relaxed.
  • Now my chest is relaxed.
  • Now my back is relaxed.
  • Now my shoulders are relaxed.
  • Now my neck is relaxed.
  • Now my face and jaw are relaxed.
  • Now my eyes are relaxed.
  • Now my temples and forehead are relaxed.
  • Now my scalp is relaxed.
  • Now my head is relaxed.

Notice this is just 16 deep breaths, not a great deal of time out of your day. For a super brief, nevertheless remarkable, dose of the most profound medicine we can get. Cut this sequence to 6-8 breaths with a whole body scanning and release of tension. Apply it while waiting in the line at the bank, while on hold with the insurance company, sitting in the dentist's chair, and while at your work. It happens fast, no one knows but you and the benefits over time are significant.

Application Suggestions:

  • Health maintenance: 3 to 6 sessions per day.
  • Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day.
  • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 15 to 20 sessions per day.
  • Getting intervention: 2 to 3 sessions per day. Notice how easy this can be. Confirm the simple but extraordinary value of this practice by doing it , vigilantly, for a couple or weeks, then spread the word.

This procedure includes 16 stations or points of awareness and is very simple and brief. It can be done with many more awareness points and may include focusing on each finger and toe, segments of the arms and legs, joints, individual organs, etc. (30 to 70 stations). In the Chinese tradition where energy pathways and points are accepted aspects of the body, attention is drawn to specific energy areas as the rhythm of the breath continues. In India the chakras or energy centers related to the endocrine organs and neurological complexes are the focus of attention as the practitioner goes deeper into a state of relaxation.

When you have been through each station and feel you could benefit from a deeper level of relaxation, go through again. When you feel you have attained a significantly deep state of relaxation turn your attention to inner healing. If the gastrointestinal system is a part of your health challenge then to bring awareness to that area of the body will add to the benefit of the relaxation session. Imagine and picture the gastrointestinal system operating optimally.

Acknowledge that the stomach and the intestines are charged with the life-force that they need. See them, in your mind's eye, glowing radiantly with vitality.

Following the initial relaxation process, if you have cold hands or if discomfort in your hands is more severe as in Raynaud's disease or scleroderma, bring your awareness to your hands. Imagine that your hands are in the sun. resting beside you as you rest comfortably at the beach. Actually feel heat in your hands. In your mind's eye see the capillaries, small blood vessels, become large tubes that carry large volume of warm blood from the center of the body to the periphery. Patients with serious circulatory disorders have, with this simple technique, learned to control the blood flow to various parts of the body.

If your heart needs healing then, following the preliminary relaxation, bring your awareness to the heart. If headaches are your major discomfort, bring the focus to the head. Or, if it is clear to you that the head pain is caused by too much tension or blood flow in the upper body, then bring the awareness to the hands and feet. See the veins, arteries and capillaries as big as pipes, rather than as tiny vessels. While the image of pipes carrying massive amounts of blood to the hands and feet may seem extreme, it is a powerful image that has helped many people. The ability to consciously remove blood from one part of the body to another, slow heart rate, warm the hands, reduce oxygen consumption, etc, are called "voluntary physiological controls." These are skills that are typical to yogis, fakirs, magicians and Qigong masters, It has been found, by scientific research that learning to apply the preliminary levels of these skills is a profound healing tool that has a significant effect on some major diseases.

Progressive Relaxation, Option III:

This is another extremely simple method that initiates the relaxation response. Begin by taking slow deep breaths. Repeat these messages to yourself.

  1. "My hands and arms are heavy and warm" (5 times).

  2. "My feet and legs are heavy and warm" (5 times).

  3. "My abdomen is warm and comfortable" (5 times).

  4. "My breathing is deep and even" (10 times).

  5. "My heartbeat is calm and regular" (10 times).

  6. "My forehead is cool" (5 times).

  7. "When I open my eyes, I will remain relaxed and refreshed" (3 times).

Application Suggestions:

  • Health maintenance: 2 to 3 sessions per day.
  • Health enhancement: 6 to 10 sessions per day.
  • Disease intervention: Start slowly and build up to 10 to 15 sessions per day. Until you are well you have time to do this.
  • Getting started: 2 to 3 sessions per day.

Because we are generally addicted to complexity and busyness, reaching a state of authentic relaxation is a challenge. Many of us are locked into worry, hurry, overwork and compulsive behaviors and the mind is very difficult to quit. The beauty of these progressive relaxation processes is their simplicity and their ability to allow the mind to have an easy focus. When the attention wanders off of the process one need only return to the breath and the sequence of awareness points. In contrast to meditation which, in many traditions, attempts to empty the mind with accompanying images, any one, including young children, harried executives or older individuals whose habits are more deeply set.

There are a number of advanced relaxation and meditation methods which include concentration, focus, intention and visualization that are used to regulate the body function , move the Qi or energy to specific areas of the body and even project the energy outside the body. These methods accelerate the individual's health and personal development practice to a greater level of power and refinement. Two such methods, "the circulation of the light in the microcosmic orbit to refine the energy body" and the "marrow washing practice" will be revealed in the advanced practice section.

Clearly, breath practice and relaxation practice enhance one another. You are in charge of how to bring these together. Remember to invent your own practice and have it be run, even inspiring. In China, breath, relaxation and movement are merged together to create Qigong in its many different forms including Tai Chi. Commit yourself to mastering these practices. They are, at their least, incredible healing tools that you can use right away for no cost to help you to rehabilitate your health and literally regenerate temporarily deficient and exhausted tissues, glands and organs. At their greatest, they are the seed skills for enhanced mental and physical capability and they are the foundation tools for spiritual growth.


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