These are two basic exercises that assist with many others. There can be many variations of them, particularly of focusing the mind. Learning them can help to prepare for more advanced exercises.
To do most kinds of exercise, you need to relax the body. It allows you to get into a quieter frame of mind, to calm the body down and to just relax. In that state, you can do many different spiritual practices. They are far less effective if you are tense, which is why it’s important to have a relaxed body.
This is best done lying down, but you can also do it sitting up. If you are sitting, make sure you’re sitting comfortably, you’re not strained, are nicely balanced, and seated where you are. Try and be aware of yourself and be here for a moment. Now become aware of your body, and relax it, relax your muscles while keeping your head up straight in a balanced way. Just balance your body there, with your head nicely balanced. If you are lying down, it’s much simpler as you can just let your whole body relax.
Then go through the different muscles to relax them. Put a little bit of tension in them first, and then relax them—it’s the most effective way to relax the body.
Start with the face, begin with the muscles around your eyes, just be aware of them, tense them a little bit and now relax them. Tense the rest of your face very slightly, just enough so you’re aware of it, then relax. Tense your jaw a little bit, then relax it. Make sure your whole face is relaxed. Then your neck, and chest (continue in this way throughout your whole body until it’s all relaxed). Check that you’re relaxed—your whole body, from your face to your toes.
A common variation of this is to simply relax the muscles without tensing them beforehand.
This is the first exercise to do before doing many others. If you do it you can see how your inner state changes just by relaxing. It’s a good way to recover energies after a busy day or in the afternoon, or whenever, even if you just lie down for five minutes, or sit down and relax your body; you’ll find you’ll actually revive quite a bit with this exercise.
Focusing The Mind
Concentration allows us to focus the mind on one thing, and to keep it focused. When we can do that, then any exercise that we do works very well. To focus the mind, we need to direct it at something and keep it on that. I’ll illustrate this kind exercise by using the example of focusing the mind upon watching the breath.
To do it you relax your body, then become aware that you’re breathing; just watch your breath. Feel your chest moving, the air coming in to your body, and going out—naturally watch it.
Stay watching it. If you have a thought, come back to what you’re doing, which is watching your breath; if any thought arises, come back to your breathing. With your eyes closed, perceive yourself breathing. Relax your body—you don’t need to think about anything else at this moment other than watching your breathing
A variation of this is to count the breathing from one to ten, so count each breath. When you get to ten, start back at one again, so with each breath counting “one” next one, “two”, until you reach ten, and then go back to one. Just count your breathing; you don’t need to think about anything else; just be focused, counting your breathing.
When you open your eyes, maintain that awareness. Try and be here for a few moments, just here, awake and aware.
You may find it useful to practice relaxation at least once a day at any time that you feel, whether it’s in a chair or lying down (you’ll find it more effective lying down). Relax your body completely, and just stay with that, for five or ten minutes. Then, again, for five or ten minutes, sitting down or even just after relaxation, focus on your breath, just concentrate on your breath as you’ve just done. It will help you to settle the mind, get it focused, and have your body in the right state; it’s also going to recuperate your energies to a degree.
And if you want to, try it at night as well, see what happens. Relax your body like this as you’re going to go to sleep, in whatever position you’re in, and then concentrate on your breath in the way that we’ve done here. If you can hold that concentration while sleep is arriving, while you’re starting to fall asleep, you’ll notice some sensations happening. They can be the first glimpses into the process of falling asleep.
~ From a talk by Belsebuub, California 2009