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Settling down the body and mind

Settling down the body and mind

The combination of relaxed stretching and deep, slow breathing is a quick and effective way to settle the “body and mind” in preparation for meditation.

You can practice the following stretches and breathing techniques at any time of the day – preferably several times during each day. The resulting reduction in your stress levels will be gradual but cumulative. The practice leads to acalmer mind, clearer thinking, a more comfortable, relaxed body and a more open hearted acceptance of the way things are including the inadequacies of other people and of yourself.

Active preparation

Of the eight limbs in Patanjali’s system of raja yoga, the yoga of meditation, five are bahir (outer) or active limbs. All five physical aspects are to be practiced together, and all are necessary to remove tensions from the body, emotions and mind, in order to experience the meditative state.

If we are angry with someone, or discontented with ourselves, or unable to sit still, or struggling with unhealthy breathing patterns and high stress levels, or if our minds are distracted by outer sensory stimuli and constant inner chatter, it is impossible to give our full attention to meditation practice. Patanjali’s first two limbs reinforce an attitude of respect and care for others through social restraint (yama) and for ourselves through purification (niyama). These are followed by a firm, comfortable seated position (asana) for meditation practice, breathing exercises (pranayama) to balance and increase energy, and finally relaxation and “switching off” (pratyahara). Only then are we ready to practice the three antar (inner) limbs that make up samyama (these are concentration, meditation and absorption/ecstasy).


This exercise stretches and flexes all the muscles that hold the spine, releasing tension and tightness that may be restricting blood flow, nerve communications and energy flow. It also opens the front of the chest and makes the breastbone more flexible, for better breathing.

Easing the spine and neck

When you exercise lying down, gravity supports and cradles you, so these exercise are very soothing – especially if you feel stiff or have painful twinges in your lower back, hips or neck. You may feel more comfortable lying on your back if you place a small cushion under your head (not your neck) to lengthen your neck and bring your chin down toward your chest. Keep your neck area free, so that it can stretch.

 What happens when you stretch?

As in case of muscles which receive their nutrients directly via the vascular system through rapid exchange rhythm, there is no such active supply system for cartilage tissues covering the ends of bones in joints. Cartilage instead is fed by the migration of particles from the joint fluid surrounding it ,know as the synovial fluid. To be able to absorb the synovial fluid optimally, the cartilage has recourse to an alteration of pressure and suction forces.

It is precisely this regular rhythmic exchange optimizing the supply to the cartilage that is achieved with the flexibility exercises. Indulging in regular stretching exercises leads to enhanced cartilage nutrition and loosening up of all the connective tissues. While performing stretching exercises both outward and inward concentration is necessary.

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