by Callan Pinckney
Over and over, you'll find me asking you to relax your body totally while doing an exercise. It's very difficult for people who haven't experienced Callanetics to understand what this means. Clearly, it is quite impossible to simultaneously contract and relax a muscle you are working-but that is not what I mean. What I'm asking you to do is not to forcefully tense your muscles-the ones you're working or any of the others. Tension-any more contraction than is necessary to perform the required movement-makes additional work for your muscles and exhausts them, keeping you from reaching the level you are capable of working at. The more you are ab1e to relax, the more you'll discover you are able to do.
This state of relaxation is as much in the mind as it is in the body. People don't realize how tight their muscles get just from the stresses of everyday living and a lack of exercise. A body is not built to sit behind a desk all day. It needs to move! Studies have shown that muscle tone starts to deteriorate very quickly. It can begin to diminish in as little as two days. Just think about how you feel after you've been sick in bed for a while. You're wobbly! The muscles weaken because they haven't been used and they haven't been doing what they were designed for.
But people also don't realize how rigid and inflexible their overall outlook becomes, making them cranky and irritable as well as prone to tension headaches, muscle spasms, and a host of other aches and pains. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone could set aside a few moments every day to relax and meditate? But that's not very realistic for a lot of people. So here's an alternative: Use your exercise time to quiet your thoughts and get you into the habit of relaxing your body. Concentrating on your body will help you let go of everything else, and the more you relax, the faster the exercises will work, because there's no tension to work against. Just like taking a nap, relaxing replenishes your energy supply and clears out the cobwebs in your brain, helping you to look at things differently, more calmly. You'll learn to be in control and stay relaxed. You'll act instead of reacting, and that's really much healthier.
So if an exercise calls for you to lift your leg, for example, try to do so with a minimum of effort. Relax your toes, unlock your knees, try not to tense your shoulders. You'll discover that the gift of relaxation extends far beyond the immediate benefits of the exercise.
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