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Training For Rest

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Power Through Repose

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 vi

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


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


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


"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.