by Ed Shapiro: Ever wondered what the biggest problem in life is? Yes, it’s the inability to relax! This is a true story:
I met John at a stress-release workshop I was teaching in Scotland. He was a schoolteacher in a run down area of Glasgow. As if that wasn’t hard enough, he was a history teacher, a subject that most of his pupils were completely uninterested in – perhaps the history of rap music but certainly not of kings and queens. Teaching had become a source of immense stress; John would regularly lose his temper and was planning to quit. I saw him again a year later at a follow-up workshop. John looked refreshed and radiant, so I fully expected to hear that he’d got a different job. Instead, he told me that he’d become head of the department. The difference? John had done nothing other than Yoga Nidra, an ancient yogic relaxation practice that I had taught him, every morning before going to school. This had led to a state of deep calm. As a result, both his attitude and approach at work had radically improved. Being mindfully relaxed is the ultimate life-changing gift we can give ourselves.
Stress is nothing new. Ever since the beginning of time we have encountered stressful situations, such as the cavemen who had to hunt for food and the resulting fight-or-flight dilemma when confronted with wild animals. The stress-producing factors may be different now but they have the same effect. It’s quite amazing to me that after thousands of years we still haven’t figured out how we need to relax! And in our current world situation, relaxation is vital.
Unless we can look at stressful difficulties with mindful awareness then all we really do is create more stress: a tense mind creates greater tension, while a calm and clear mind creates clarity and positivity. When we are stressed then everything becomes an irritation, no matter how well intended. Friendships are lost and families broken as achievements and possessions become more important than kindness and caring.
We can’t hide from stress, but we do take being stressed for granted without doing anything about it until it becomes unmanageable. We think relaxation can be accomplished by indulging in mindless and distracting activities. At times this is true. But more often they become an escape from our inability to cope in a world of conflicting pressures and prejudices. Stress throws us into regrets of the past and fears of the future and we lose the ability to be in the present moment. Meantime guilt, shame and blame create unimaginable scenarios. As the anxiety becomes too much to handle we begin to look outside ourselves for help, such as to alcohol, drugs, or therapy. Such is our ‘normal’ state of being!
Do you get upset or angry when matters don’t go as planned? Do you need to be in control, or can you allow events to take their natural course? Do you believe you are right and so others are wrong? Are you able to see things as they are without prejudice or bias? Do you bear grudges and hold on to things or can you let go and move on? These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to become more tolerant, kind, and relaxed.
Confusion and misunderstanding make us desperate for change, but we don’t know how to bring about the transformation we yearn for. So we change the superficial things, like our hairstyle or clothes, we even have a facelift or hair transplant. All we want is to be wanted! But if we change our lives from within then the outer will also transform. Being mindfully relaxed has a hugely positive effect on our looks, health, on others, and the world we live in. What more could we want?
Ed Shapiro is the author of The Art Of Mindful Relaxation, The Heart of Yoga Nidra. Award-winning Authors Ed and Deb are mindfulness, meditation and yoga experts. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation downloads. See more at EdandDebShapiro.com