(From Nicoll’s Commentaries, pp 1252 and 809)
We are taught to practise relaxation. In some situations it is the only thing we can practise–just to relax and not think. Begin with the small muscles of the face. Yes– but to relax the muscles of the face it is necessary to become conscious that they are tightened or contracted. A muscle can tighten without visibly contracting. It can be in a state of heightened tone which is unnecessary and wastes force. When a person is said to be “keyed up” or some similar phrase, if you examine him, you may find all his reflexes over-brisk, which may mean over-tone in the muscles which are being kept on the stretch unnecessarily and so are wasting force. I will not argue about this point….
To return: as we are, directed attention practised, say, for five minutes, by putting consciousness into every part of the body, beginning with the face-muscles, will give definite results at any moment when it is done in order to prevent some difficult period of being identified. Directing one’s attention to the Intellectual or Emotional Centre demands internal attention. Internal attention begins with self-observation. Putting consciousness into the muscle-tension of the body is both internal and external attention. Begin by trying, say, to put your consciousness into your right thumb–then shift it to your left.
Try therefore to study relaxation when you can. Notice how your face-muscles are contracted and try by putting your internal attention into the face-muscles to relax them. I advise you to begin with the muscles round about your eyes and then the muscles round about your nose (those muscles which sneer so easily) and then the small muscles all round your mouth and your cheeks; and then put your internal attention into those muscles which are just under the chin and in the front of the neck and then go round the back of your head and relax those muscles that make you stiff-necked, and then into the bigger muscles round your shoulders and gradually descend through internal attention right down to your toes. Of course this takes a long time but it is a very good thing to try to do. I have left out the muscles of the hands. I should have said: Pass from the shoulders down the arms to the hands and begin with the wrist-muscles. Put your internal attention into your wrist-muscles so that your wrists are quite flexible, quite dropped down, and then try to go into the small muscles of the fingers and relax them. Everyone in going through the muscular tensions in their bodies in this way will get to know for themselves certain groups of muscles which are not ordinarily relax properly. remember above all that you cannot relax just by saying to yourself: “Relax.” It is an actual exercise of internal attention. It is a directed effort that has to be made comparatively consciously and even if you do it only once a week you will get results.
Often people are kept awake at night because of a certain group of muscles being in a these state. They may observe their Emotional Centre and their Intellectual Centre and try to relax–i.e. not identify with these two centres–but they do not observe through internal attention the muscular contractions that exist in their body. Now this paper is about muscular relaxation. It is about relaxing the Moving Centre. I will remind you again that the Work says that every centre can hypnotize another centre. In the case of Moving Centre this means that certain typical postures and typical expressions induce in you typical emotions and typical thoughts. For example, a hurried person, who cannot stop rushing about, is a person who has a Moving Centre that assumes certain positions or postures, or rather, in this case, certain movements, which belong to the same idea, and therefore is always hypnotized by Moving Centre assuming these postures and movements. These hurried movements would induce hurried and anxious emotions and hurried and anxious thoughts. This is where illness sometimes is so good. I can only say that I have noticed it in myself very often. Illness quiets Moving Centre and so often does a great deal of good by relaxing us. Perhaps some of you have noticed the same thing. I may not be emotionally anxious or have any reason to be, but if I am accustomed to make hurried movements and apparently never have time for anything, my Moving Centre will hypnotize my Emotional Centre into feeling anxiety and being harassed. Of course we must not think for a moment that we are all going to begin to walk about majestically and slowly just to shew off how we are relaxed. One has to be really relaxed through internal attention when one wishes to be and when one feels one needs to be relaxed. If you will start with the small muscles of your face and do this exercise quite sincerely you will be very surprised to find out how very often rather difficult and worrying thoughts completely cease. For example, stop frowning for a short time, I mean, don’t just stop frowning because you are told not to frown but through internal attention really go into the muscles that are frowning, and lo and behold, all your frowning thoughts will disappear. This means that they are kept going by the posture of your face. Again, people who stick out their jaws and clench their fists find that it is quite remarkable if they can cease to do this–they feel quite alien from themselves. But, since we all wish to remain mechanical and do not wish to change at all, I fancy that these people will very soon stick out their jaws and clench their fists and make chests as before.
Now in discussing this paper please remember that we start in the Work with relaxing the muscles of the face and this takes a lot of practice in putting the consciousness into these muscles and relaxing them one by one, and remember especially the small skin-muscles just underneath the chin and the muscles at the back of the neck. In my personal experience I have found that relaxing the wrist-muscles when I have no time to do anything else is extremely useful. Let your hands drop because the hands so easily express violence.