“How Do I Make Myself Relax?”

The youngest participant in my recent weekend on yoga for athletes at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health was a twelve-year-old swimmer. Toward the end of the first session’s savasana—the quiet relaxation period at the end of practice—he raised his hand.

The question: “How do I make myself relax?”

This question sits at the heart of the yoga practice. How do I create connection? How do I make myself balance? How do I force myself to surrender?

My answer is that you don’t. Paradoxically, the harder you try, the harder it is to achieve. Instead, put your effort into setting the preconditions for your desired outcome. For yoga, union, samadhi, this means establishing clear intention (yama, niyama), appropriate form (asana) and breath (pranayama), inner awareness (pratyahara), focus (dharana), and presence (diyana). After going through the list, if connection doesn’t come, you turn your attention back to one of the preliminary steps. At worst, this will sharpen your skills; at best, it will invite connection.

Alaska, 2014
Alaska, 2014

It’s like whale watching. You go out to a place where the whales may be. You cast your gaze over the water. And maybe they come. You won’t find them on the street, or on a screen; you have to be in the right place with the right quality of attention. At worst, you had a day out on the water; at best, you catch a glimpse of whales.