HOME SPIRITUALFREEDOM LIBRARY TABLE OF CONTENTS
TRAINING FOR REST
BUT how shall we gain a natural repose? It is absurd to emphasize the need without giving the remedy. "I should be so glad to relax, but I do not know how," is the sincere lament of many a nervously strained being.
There is a regular training which acts upon the nervous force and teaches its proper use, as the gymnasium develops the muscles. This, as will be easily seen, is at first just the reverse of vigorous exercise, and no woman should do powerful muscular work without learning at the same time to guide her body with true economy of force. It is appalling to watch the faces of women in a gymnasium, to see them using five, ten, twenty times the nervous force necessary for every exercise. The more excited they get, the more nervous force they use; and the hollows under their eyes increase, the strained expression comes, and then they wonder that after such fascinating exercise they feel so tired. A common sight in gymnasium work, especially among women, is the nervous straining of the muscles of the arms and hands, while exercises meant for the legs alone are taken. This same muscular tension is evident in the arm that should be at rest while the other arm is acting; and if this want of equilibrium in exercise is so strikingly noticeable in the limbs themselves, how much worse it must be all through the less prominent muscles! To guide the body in trapeze work, every well-trained acrobat knows he must have a quiet mind, a clear head, and obedient muscles. I recall a woman who stands high in gymnastic work, whose agility on the triple bars is excellent, but the nervous strain shown in the drawn lines of her face before she begins, leaves one who studies her carefully always in doubt as to whether she will not get confused before her difficult performance is over, and break her neck in consequence. A, realization also of the unnecessary nervous force she is using, detracts greatly from the pleasure in watching her performance.
If we were more generally sensitive to misdirected nervous power, this interesting gymnast, with many others, would lose no time in learning a more quiet and naturally economical guidance of her muscles, and gymnasium work would not be, as Dr. Checkley very justly calls it, "more often a straining than a training."
To aim a gun and hit the mark, a quiet control of the muscles is necessary. If the purpose of our actions were as well defined as the bull's eye of a target, what wonderful power in the use of our muscles we might very soon obtain! But the precision and ease in an average motion comes so far short of its possibility, that if the same carelessness were taken as a matter of course in shooting practice, the side of a barn should be an average target.
Gymnasium work for women would be grand in its wholesome influence, if only they might learn the proper use of the body while they are working for its development. And no gymnasium will be complete and satisfactory in its results until the leader arranges separate classes for training in economy of force and rhythmic motion. In order to establish a true physical balance the training of the nerves should receive as much attention as the training of the muscles. The more we misuse our nervous force, the worse the expenditure will be as muscular power increases; I cannot waste so much force on a poorly developed muscle as on one that is well developed. This does not by any means argue against the development of muscle; it argues for its proper use. Where is the good of an exquisitely formed machine, if it is to be shattered for want of control of the motive power?
It would of course be equally harmful to train the guiding power while neglecting entirely flabby, undeveloped muscles. The only difference is that in the motions for this training and for the perfect co-ordinate use of the muscles, there must be a certain amount of even, muscular development; whereas although the vigorous exercise for the growth of the muscles often helps toward a healthy nervous system, it more often, where the nervous force is misused, exaggerates greatly the tension.
In every case it is equilibrium we are working for, and a one-sided view of physical training is to be deplored and avoided, whether the balance is lost on the side of the nerves or the muscles.
Take a little child early enough, and watch it carefully through a course of natural rhythmic exercises, and there will be no need for the careful training necessary to older people. But help for us who have gone too far in this tension comes only through patient study.
So far as I can, I will give directions for gaining the true relaxation. But because written directions are apt to be misunderstood, and so bring discouragement and failure, I will purposely omit all but the most simple means of help; but these I am sure will bring very pleasant effects if followed exactly and with the utmost patience.
The first care should be to realize how far you are from the ability to let go of your muscles when they are not needed; how far you are from the natural state of a cat when she is quiet, or better still from the perfect freedom of a sleeping baby; consequently how impossible it is for you ever to rest thoroughly. Almost all of us are constantly exerting ourselves to hold our own heads on. This is easily proved by our inability to let go of them. The muscles are so well balanced that Nature holds our heads on much more perfectly than we by any possibility can. So it is with all our muscles; and to teach them better habits we must lie flat on our backs, and try to give our whole weight to the floor or the bed. The floor is better, for that does not yield in the least to us, and the bed does. Once on the floor, give way to it as far as possible. Every day you will become more sensitive to tension, and every day you will be better able to drop it. While you are flat on your backs, if you can find some one to "prove" your relaxation, so much the better. Let your friend lift an arm, bending it at the different joints, and then carefully lay it down. See if you can give its weight entirely to the other person, so that it seems to be no part of you, but as separate as if it were three bags of sand, fastened loosely at the wrist, the elbow, and the shoulder; it will then be full of life without tension. You will find probably, either that you try to assist in raising the arm in your anxiety to make it heavy, or you will resist so that it is not heavy with its own weight but with I your personal effort. In some cases the nervous force is so active that the arm reminds one of a lively eel.
Then have your legs treated in the same way. It is good even to have some one throw your arm or your leg up and catch it; also to let it go unexpectedly. Unnecessary tension is proved when the limb, instead of dropping by the pure force of gravity, sticks fast wherever it was left. The remark when the extended limb is brought to the attention of its owner is, "Well, what did you want me to do? You did not say you wanted me to drop it,"--which shows the habitual attitude of tension so vividly as to be almost ridiculous; the very idea being, of course, that you are not wanted to do anything but let go, when the arm would drop of its own accord. If the person holding your arm says, " Now I will let go, and it must drop as if a dead weight," almost invariably it will not be the force of gravity that takes it, but your own effort to make it a dead weight; and it will come down with a thump which shows evident muscular effort, or so slowly and actively as to prove that you cannot let it alone. Constant and repeated trial, with right thought from the pupil, will be certain to bring good results, so that at least he or she can be sure of better power for rest in the limbs. Unfortunately this first gain will not last. Unless the work goes on, the legs and arms will soon be "all tightened up" again, and it will seem harder to let go than ever.
The next care must be with the head. That cannot be treated as roughly as the limbs. It can be tossed, if the tosser will surely catch it on his open hand. Never let it drop with its full weight on the floor, for the jar of the fall, if you are perfectly relaxed, is unpleasant; if you are tense, it is dangerous. At first move it slowly up and down. As with the arms, there will be either resistance or attempted assistance. It seems at times as though it were and always would be impossible to let go of your own head. of course, if you cannot give up and let go for a friend to move it quietly up and down, you cannot let go and give way entirely to the restful power of sleep. The head must be moved up and down, from side to side, and round and round in opposite ways, gently and until its owner can let go so completely that it seems like a big ball in the hands that move it. Of course care must be taken to move it gently and never to extremes, and it will not do to trust an unintelligent person to "prove" a body in any way. Ladies' maids have been taught to do it very well, but they had in all cases to be carefully watched at first.
The example of a woman who had for years been an invalid is exceedingly interesting as showing how persistently people "hold on." Although the greater part of her time had been spent in a reclining attitude, she had not learned the very rudiments of relaxation, and could not let go of her own muscles any more easily than others who have always been in active life. Think of holding yourself on to the bed for ten years! Her maid learned to move her in the way that has been described, and after repeated practice, by the time she had reached the last movement the patient would often be sleeping like a baby. It did not cure her, of course; that was not expected. But it taught her to "relax" to a pain instead of bracing up and fighting it, and to live in a natural way so far as an organic disease and sixty years of misused and over-used force would allow.
Having relaxed the legs and arms and head, next the spine and all the muscles of the chest must be helped to relax. This is more difficult, and requires not only care but greater muscular strength in the lifter. If the one who is lifting will only remember to press hard on the floor with the feet, and put all the effort of lifting in the legs, the strain will be greatly lessened.
Take hold of the hands and lift the patient or pupil to a sitting attitude. Here, of course, if the muscles that hold the head are perfectly relaxed, the head will drop back from its own weight. Then, in letting the body back again, of course, keep hold of the hands,--never let go; and after it is down, if the neck has remained relaxed, the head will be back in a most uncomfortable attitude, and must be lifted and placed in the right position. It is some time before relaxation is so complete as that. At first the head and spine will come up like a ramrod, perfectly rigid and stiff. There will be the same effort either to assist or resist; the same disinclination to give up; often the same remark, "If you will tell me what you want me to do, I will do it;" the same inability to realize that the remark, and the feeling that prompts it, are entirely opposed to the principle that you are wanted to do nothing, and to do nothing with an effort is impossible. In lowering the body it must "give" like a bag of bones fastened loosely together and well padded. Sometimes when it is nearly down, one arm can be dropped, and the body let down the rest of the way by the other. Then it is simply giving way completely to the laws of gravity, it will fall over on the side that is not held, and only roll on its back as the other arm is dropped. Care must always be taken to arrange the head comfortably after the body is resting on the ground. Sometimes great help is given toward relaxing the muscles of the chest and spine by pushing the body up as if to roll it over, first one side and then the other, and letting it roll back from its own weight. It is always good, after helping the separate parts to a restful state, to take the body as a whole and roll it over and over, carefully, and see if the owner can let you do so without the slightest effort to assist you. It will be easily seen that the power, once gained, of remaining perfectly passive while another moves you, means a steadily increasing ability to relax at all times when the body should be given to perfect rest. This power to "let go" causes an increasing sensitiveness to all tension, which, unpleasant as it always is to find mistakes of any kind in ourselves, brings a very happy result in the end; for we can never shun evils, physical or spiritual, until we have recognized them fully, and every mistaken way of using our machine, when studiously avoided, brings us nearer to that beautiful unconscious use of it which makes it possible for us to forget it entirely in giving it the more truly to its highest use.
After having been helped in some degree by another, and often without that preliminary help, come the motions by which we are enabled to free ourselves; and it is interesting to see how much more easily the body will move after following this course of exercises. Take the same attitude on the floor, giving up entirely in every part to the force of gravity, and keep your eyes closed through the whole process. Then stop and imagine yourself heavy. First think one leg heavy, then the other, then each arm, and both arms, being sure to keep the same weight in the legs; then your body and head. Use your imagination to the full extent of its power, and think the whole machine heavy; wonder how the floor can hold such a weight. Begin then to take a deep breath. Inhale through the nose quietly and easily. Let it seem as if the lungs expanded themselves with, out voluntary effort on your part. Fill first the lower lungs and then the upper. Let go, and exhale the air with a sense of relief. As the air leaves your lungs, try to let your body rest back on the floor more heavily, as a rubber bag would if the air were allowed to escape from it. Repeat this breathing exercise several times; then inhale and exhale rhythmically, with breaths long enough to give about six to a minute, for ten times, increasing the number every day until you reach fifty. This eventually will establish the habit of longer breaths in the regular unconscious movement of our lungs, which is most helpful to a wholesome physical state. The directions for deep breathing should be carefully followed in the deep breaths taken after each motion. After the deep breathing, drag your leg up slowly, very slowly, trying to have no effort except in the hip joint, allowing the knee to bend, and dragging the heel heavily along the floor, until it is up so far that the sole of the foot touches without effort on your part. Stop occasionally in the motion and let the weight come into the heel, then drag the foot with less effort than before,--so will the strain of movement be steadily decreased. Let the leg slip slowly down, and when it is nearly flat on the floor again, let go, so that it gives entirely and drops from its own weight. If it is perfectly free, there is a pleasant little spring from the impetus of dropping, which is more or less according to the healthful state of the body. The same motion must be repeated with the other leg. Every movement should be slower each day. It is well to repeat the movements of the legs for three times, trying each time to move more slowly, with the leg heavier than the time before. After this, lift the arm slowly from the shoulder, letting the hand hang over until it is perpendicular to the floor. Be careful to think the arm heavy, and the motive power in the shoulder. It helps to relax if you imagine your arm held to the shoulder by a single hair, and that if you move it with a force beyond the minimum needed to raise it, it will drop off entirely. To those who have little or no imagination this will seem ridiculous; to others who have more, and can direct it usefully, this and similar ways will be very helpful. After the arm is raised to a perpendicular position, let the force of gravity have it,--first the upper arm to the elbow, and then the forearm and hand, so that it falls by pieces. Follow the same motion with the other arm, and repeat this three times, trying to improve with each repetition.
Next, the head must be moved slowly,--so slowly that it seems as though it hardly moved at all,--first rolled to the left, then back and to the right and back again; and this also can be repeated three times. After each of the above motions there should be two or three long, quiet breaths. To free the spine, sit up on the floor, and with heavy arms and legs, head dropped forward, let it go back slowly and easily, as if the vertebrae were beads on a string, and first one bead lay flat, then another and another, until the whole string rests on the floor, and the head falls back with its own weight. This should be practised over and over before the movement can be perfectly free; and it is well to begin on the bed, until you catch the idea and its true application. After, and sometimes before, the process of slow motions, rolling over loosely on one side should be practised,--remaining there until the weight all seems near the floor, and then giving way so that the force of gravity seems to "flop" it back (I use "flop" advisedly); so again resting on the other side. But one must go over by regular motions, raising the leg first heavily and letting it fall with its full weight over the other leg, so that the ankles are crossed. The arm on the same side must be raised as high as possible and dropped over the chest. Then the body can be rolled over, and carried as it were by the weight of the arm and leg. It must go over heavily and freely like a bag of loose bones, and it helps greatly to freedom to roll over and over in this way.
Long breaths, taken deeply and quietly, should be interspersed all through these exercises for extreme relaxation. They prevent the possibility of relaxing too far. And as there is a pressure on every muscle of the body during a deep inspiration, the muscles, being now relaxed into freedom, are held in place, so to speak, by the pressure from the breath,--as we blow in the fingers of a glove to put them in shape.
Remember always that it is equilibrium we are working for, and this extreme relaxation will bring it, because we have erred so far in the opposite direction. For instance, there is now no balance at all between our action and our rest, because we are more or less tense and consequently active all through the times when we should be entirely at rest; and we never can be moved by Nature's rhythm until we learn absolute relaxation for rest, and so gain the true equilibrium in that way. Then again, since we use so much unnecessary tension in everything we do, although we cannot remove it entirely until we learn the normal motion of our muscles, still after an hour's practice and the consequent gain in extreme relaxation, it will be impossible to attack our work with the same amount of unnecessary force, at least for a time; and every day the time in which we are able to work, or talk, or move with less tension will increase, and so our bad habits be gradually changed, if not to good, to better ones. So the true equilibrium comes gradually more and more into every action of our lives, and we feel more and more the wholesome harmony of a rhythmic life. We gradually swing into rhythm with Nature through a child-like obedience to her laws.
Of one thing I must warn all nervous people who mean to try the relief to be gained from relaxation. The first effects will often be exceedingly unpleasant. The same results are apt to follow that come from the reaction after extreme excitement,--all the way from nervous nausea and giddiness to absolute fainting. This, as must be clearly seen, is a natural result from the relaxation that comes after years of habitual tension. The nerves have been held in a chronic state of excitement over something or nothing; and, of course, when their owner for the first time lets go, they begin to feel their real state, and the result of habitual strain must be unpleasant. The greater the nervous strain at the beginning, the more slowly the pupil should advance, practising in some cases only five minutes a day.
And with regard to those people who "live on their nerves," not a few, indeed very many, are so far out of the normal way of living that they detest relaxation. A hearty hatred of the relaxing motions is often met, and even when the mind is convinced of the truth of the theory, it is only with difficulty that such people can persuade themselves or be persuaded by others to work steadily at the practice until the desired result is gained.
"It makes me ten times more nervous than I was before."
"Oh, no, it does not; it only makes you realize your nervousness ten times more."
"Well, then, I do not care to realize my nervousness, it is very disagreeable."
"But, unfortunately, if you do not realize it now and relax into Nature's ways, she will knock you hard against one of her stone walls, and you will rebound with a more unpleasant realization of nervousness than is possible now."
The locomotive engine only utilizes nineteen per cent of the amount of fuel it burns, and inventors are hard at work in all directions to make an engine that will burn only the fuel needed to run it. Here is a much more valuable machine--the human engine--burning perhaps eighty-one per cent more than is needed to accomplish its ends, not through the mistake of its Divine Maker, but through the stupid, short-sighted thoughtlessness of the engineer.
Is not the economy of our vital forces of much greater importance than mechanical or business economy?
It is painful to see a man--thin and pale from the excessive nervous force he has used, and from a whole series of attacks of nervous prostration--speak with contempt of "this method of relaxation." It is not a method in any sense except that in which all the laws of Nature are methods. No one invented it, no one planned it; every one can see, who will look, that it is Nature's way and the only true way of living. To call it a new idea or method is as absurd as it would be, had we carried our tension so far as to forget sleep entirely, for some one to come with a "new method" of sleep to bring us into a normal state again; and then the people suffering most intensely from want of "tired Nature's sweet restorer" would be the most scornful in their irritation at this new idea of "sleep."
Again, there are many, especially women, who insist that they prefer the nervously excited state, and would not lose it. This is like a man's preferring to be chronically drunk. But all these abnormal states are to be expected in abnormal people, and must be quietly met by Nature's principles in order to lead the sufferers back to Nature's ways. Our minds are far enough beyond our bodies to lead us to help ourselves out of mistaken opinions; although often the sincere help of others takes us more rapidly over hard ground and prevents many a stumble.
Great nervous excitement is possible, every one knows, without muscular tension; therefore in all these motions for gaining freedom and a better physical equilibrium in nerve and muscle, the warning cannot be given too often to take every exercise easily. Do not work at it, go so far even as not to care especially whether you do it right or not, but simply do what is to be done without straining mind or body by effort. It is quite possible to make so desperate an effort to relax, that more harm than good is done. Particularly harmful is the intensity with which an effort to gain physical freedom is made by so many highly strung natures. The additional mental excitement is quite out of proportion to the gain that may come from muscular freedom. For this reason it is never advisable for one who feels the need of gaining a more natural control of nervous power to undertake the training without a teacher. If a teacher is out of the question, ten minutes practice a day is all that should be tried for several weeks.
GO TO CHAPTER XIII