For many yoga students the guided relaxation at the end of a yoga class is the part they look forward to the most and it’s one of the aspects of yoga I most enjoy teaching. There are a few types of guided relaxation you can add to your toolkit as either a yoga student or a teacher depending on your own needs and circumstances.
What type to choose?
There are a few types of guided relaxation to choose from depending on you or your students’ requirements. Here I’ve given a brief introduction to the relaxation techniques I use either for myself or in class. If you know of any more then it would be great to hear about them.
Deep breathing is a reliable and portable way to begin relaxing. It can be used anywhere and doesn’t require a lengthy, scripted relaxation. Whenever we breathe in or hold our breath, we increase tension in our bodies. When we breathe out our body releases tension and naturally relaxes. Deep breathing can be used on it’s own or as a precursor to the following three relaxation techniques.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This technique was developed in the 1920’s by Doctor Edmund Jacobson. It’s simple and effective, based on the principle that when you tense a muscle for a short time and then release, the muscle relaxes more deeply after the release. I often use this technique when I have beginner students in class as it’s really easy to practice. One word of warning here though, don’t use it on muscles that are prone to cramp!
Drs Johannes Schulz and Wolgang Luthe ntroduced this technique in 1932. A relaxation script will guide a participant through exercises that make their muscles feel warm, heavy and relaxed. The exercise will combine this with awareness of the breath, encouraging the breath to become deeper and more rhythmic. This is one of my favourite types of relaxation exercise, although if using this one with your students, make sure the room they are relaxing in is warm. Don’t make the mistake I did a couple of winters ago when I was teaching yoga in a particularly cold studio. I used an autogenic relaxation which guided the students to feeling warm and heavy. I go some feedback afterwards from a couple of students saying that they were so cold they could barely relax, let alone feeling warm and heavy as well.
Guided Imagery and Visualisation
The process of imagining a scene or action in your head can be used to help bring about a feeling of relaxation. A carefully worded relaxation script will combine imagery, sensory awareness and relaxed breathing to take the participant on a mental journey where they can become peaceful, revitalised and renewed. Many people can use guided imagery and visualisation to great effect, however about 2% of the population are thought to have aphantasia , a newly documented condition in which an individual is unable to create mental images. In this case a guided relaxation based on imagery and visualisation may not be beneficial. Phobias and personal history are other factors to consider when using guided imagery – a visualisation conjuring up a beautiful lakeside scene may not be relaxing for someone with a fear of water.
I can’t recommend the following three books highly enough. I use them every week in my teaching and wouldn’t be without them.
30 Scripts for Relaxation, Imagery & Inner Healing Volume 1 – Second Edition Paperback – 1 Jan 2015 by Julie T. Lusk
30 Scripts for Relaxation, Imagery & Inner Healing, Volume 2 – Second Edition Paperback – 1 Jan 2015 by Julie T Lusk
Relaxation Scripts for Harmony, Serenity & Tranquility by Donald A. Tubesing and Nancy Loving Tubesing | 30 Jan 2004
Insight Timer – Meditation App 4+ Meditation for Sleep & Anxiety Insight Network Inc
I’ve used this free app since 2015 to time my meditation practice, but it also has some excellent guided relaxation practices. My favourites are read by soft voiced Aussie, Kate James
Calm – Meditate, Sleep, Relax Calm.com, Inc.
I’ve just downloaded this and it’s quite expensive for a years subscription. That being said I have used it a lot and really enjoy the bedtime stories section. Just be careful to cancel your subscription if you decide you no longer want it.