Monday, June 1, 2015

Learn to unwind, like a cat

The resting cat appears totally relaxed, or is it? Is it in the collapsed state that we adopt in the lounge chair? No, the cat’s muscles are toned, and it is available for action instantly.

We collapse in the mistaken belief that tension is bad and relaxation good. So let’s consider the right amount of tension and release in the muscles. Across the whole body, there is ‘a delicate balance and co-operation between opposing muscle groups’ (Langford p.40). The nervous system coordinates muscles through reciprocal inhibition. This involves simultaneous signalling, so for example as the biceps contract to lift an object, the opposing triceps must be inhibited from also contracting.

So what seems like relaxation ‘may really be the giving way, by one set of muscles, to a continuous strong pull from an opposing muscle group’ (Langford p.40). Going all floppy can cause serious physical difficulties (Langford p.40). The cat has this balance right. It is ready to act in a split second, whether it is lying down or nonchalantly sitting up.

The lesson for us is to be available for action, without holding unnecessary tension. Just like the cat or the tai chi practitioner who is perfectly poised.

My yoga teacher Anna Isgro has a great instruction. In our class, she asks for both release into the floor and expansion away from it. Can you see the relevance to how we unwind?

Try these simple practices 

Make them manageable by starting with a few minutes each day.

Observe yourself more. Are your muscle groups cooperating? Look for tension points, slumping, unevenness and imbalance, or awkward movement.

Think expansion of your body by directing attention to one area, then another and another.
* across the hips, ribs, shoulders and cheekbones
* along the spine from tailbone to head,
* out along the arms, wrists and hands to the fingertips

Practice constructive rest, in which you can truly observe changes in your body (and mind).
* Ask for expansion as you release.

* And think back to our animal friends. ‘A dog or cat asleep feels peaceful but lively to the touch’ (Langford p40)

Elizabeth Langford (2008) Mind and Muscle: An Owner’s Handbook. 2nd Edn. Garant, Antwerpen Belgium. Pp.39-40

See also these previous posts