This page contains details of:

  • Tension awareness or relaxation movements, and provides additional information to support the guidance given on the CD and App.
  • Guidance on creating a resolution or affirmation during Yoga Nidra practice.
  • How to use the Short Body Scan as a guided mindfulness practice

Tension awareness or relaxation movements

This simple relaxation technique is remarkably effective.  By using it you change muscular positions of tension to positions of ease and so trigger the body's "relaxation response" which will begin to reverse the working of the stress reflex.

The technique can be used wholly or in parts.  If you have 5  minutes to spend going slowly over all the movements and sitting for a minute in stillness at the end this will be most beneficial. Just as useful can be taking a few seconds every hour during a busy day to check forehead, shoulders, jaw, tongue or fingers and releasing any tension. These small adjustments will feed into the brain messages of relaxation and prevent a build up of the tension and of the stress reflex. 

These movements help to locate the areas of tension and release the deep, habitual patterns of holding in the body and around the breath. They also give us a moment or two of calm which, in a world of no stillness, can go a long way.

The Tension Awareness Movements work as a guided mindfulness practice, bringing awareness to what is real in the moment, to the body and to the breath. The few seconds it takes to go through all or some of the movements creates a gap, a space in which we are able to step out of the 'thought stream', the stories in our heads and in that 'gap' there is a freedom to choose whether to return to the thoughts or not.  

The movements are also beneficial if used last thing at night just before sleep.  If you go to sleep with muscles relaxed they can really rest.

Although the guidelines below start with the shoulders the movements can be done in any order. We all have our favourite area of the body for holding tension and may not even be aware of it.

The movements in detail:

  1. Firstly, make a movement which results in relaxation of the tense muscle group.
  2. Secondly, stop doing the movement and let go completely.
  3. Thirdly, feel the new position that results from releasing the tense muscle group.  Give time for the brain to register this position of ease.  For example, when the shoulders are relaxed they feel further away from the ears and the back of your neck may feel a little longer.


Pull your shoulders toward your feet.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Your shoulders further away from your ears. The back of your neck may feel a little longer.


With the hands resting on the thighs or if you are lying have them resting on the lower abdomen, lift the elbows up and slightly away from the rib cage.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
A softness or space between the upper arm and the ribcage and an open angle at the elbow.


Fingers and thumbs stretch out and opened wide.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
The resulting ease in the hands as the fingers are softly stretched out and separated.


Turn your hips outwards, take the knees a small distance away from each other.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
Your thighs have moved outward.

Lower leg 

Stretch the front of the ankle joint by lifting the heels leaving the balls of the feet on the floor if sitting. If you are lying then move the toes away from the face until you feel the stretch.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
The feet hanging loosely out to the sides if you are lying on your back. If you are sitting, feel a loosening around the ankle joint throughout the muscles of the shins.


Draw the abdomen back towards the spine.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
A softening of the abdomen and the breath may deepen as the release in the abdominal muscles allows the diaphragm to fully descend.


Breath at a comfortable rate for you.Breathe in gently through the nose.  Expand the area in front above the waist, and between the angles of the rib cage, and raise your lower ribs upwards and outwards  Then breathe out gently through the nose, feeling your ribs fall downwards and inwards. Repeat once or twice aiming to extend the length of the out breath if this is comfortable.


Draw the jaw downwards whilst keeping the lips together, this is a soft and gentle movement.

Stop the movement and allow the jaw to settle back with the teeth slightly apart.
The sensation of the teeth being apart and the jaw feeling heavy and the lips soft.


Press the tongue downwards in your mouth, stretching it away from the roof of the mouth.

Stop the movement and let go completely.
The tongue resting on the floor of the mouth and the whole inner mouth soft and spacious.


Softly close the eyes.

Eyes remain closed.
The space between the eyes open and soft as the forehead muscles begin to relax.


As tension is released and the relaxed state is revealed the breath will begin to slow and deepen and the busy mind will begin to quieten. Enjoy a sense of heaviness and ease throughout the body and a stilling of the chatter in the mind.

If the mind does becomes busy and chatty, problem solving and planning then take your awareness to your hands and focus on any sensations arising. Alternatively, take your awareness to the flow of air moving in the nostrils, cool air in and warmer air out.  Observe and feel this flow, feeling for the point at which the air becomes the breath. Going through the movements again, possibly more quickly may also help calm the busy the mind.

Return to full activity

Always stretch the limbs and yawn.  Do not hurry.  Sit up slowly and wait for a moment before standing up.

Feeling the difference and learning to recognise this is the most beneficial part of the technique in the long term.  With practice, the brain soon recognises and returns the body to positions of ease rather than allowing joints and muscles to remain in a tense state.

Do not use this technique when you are driving or in any situation where you need to concentrate. This technique is not a substitute for professional counseling or medical advice. 

 © Copyright: Annette Brown 2011

These Tension Awareness Movements were inspired by the groundbreaking work of Laura Mitchell in the 1960s and her subsequent writings on Reciprocal Relaxation.





Guidance on creating a resolution or affirmation during Yoga Nidra practice

There are two opportunities during the practice of Yoga Nidra or Yoga sleep to repeat an affirmation or resolution. This happens when the mind and body are beginning to relax and at this time the deeper levels of our being or the subconscious is very sensitive to a conscious suggestion.

These resolutions or affirmations work in a similar way to the 'post-hypnotic suggestions' used in hypnosis and the 'personal and motivational formulae' used in Autogenic Training.The aim is to plant the seed of an idea into the mind while it is in a relaxed state. It is an opportunity to address a specific area for change, possibly breaking a habit or supporting a particular aspect of your life, aiming for a change in attitude or behaviour. The resolution or affirmation can be repeated at other times during the day e.g. while walking, queuing, waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting to use the photocopier, etc.. This repetition outside of the Yoga Nidra practice will reinforce its message.

Use only one affirmation at a time and allow 3-4 weeks of regular practice for its effects to be felt. The key to constructing a resolution is to know what you want and to express it in a short, simple positive phrase, which is memorable and in your own words.

Here are a few examples of resolutions or affirmations.

My mind is flexible. I am calm, confident and flexible.
I easily retain and recall my studies.I easily retain information.
I am loved just as I am.I know I can succeed.
I forgive and release others.I know my limitations.
Waking does not matter.

Alcohol is giving me up.

I listen to my body.Smoking is giving me up.
I love and respect myself.My world is beautiful.
I am at peace with myself.I am full of vitality.
I sleep at night calm and light. I am free of panic.



How to use the Short Body Scan as a guided mindfulness practice

The Short Body Scan works well as a guided mindfulness practice; as an introduction to mindfulness meditation. It gives a 6 minute practice which can be extended by remaining in silence as the scan finishes rather than following the Garden Visualisation.

Relaxation is not meditation, but the ability to relax - even a little - is fundamental to entering the meditative state. The other component of meditation is concentration. Not a sharp, tight, focused concentration but more a soft sense of being present and staying present.

This is like the difference between holding something e.g. a shell, in a tightly closed, gripping fist or holding it in the soft 'bowl' of an upturned palm. The mind is held in the soft stillness of awareness with no judgement, no expectations and nowhere to go; what a relief that can be.

The ability to concentrate in this gentle way means you are aware and awake enough to notice when the mind is drawn from the moment to moment experience which is mindfulness, and is distracted by thoughts. Returning to the habitual practices of reviewing, planning, rehearsing, anticipating, and judging. When you are able to notice this shift in awareness you then have a choice, to run with the stream of thoughts or to return to full awareness of the present moment, to practice mindfulness.

A few practicalities which extend the Short Body Scan into a guided mindfulness meditation practice:

1) Choose a regular time and place each day to practice and commit to this.

2) Sit comfortably on a firm chair with your hands resting in your lap or on your knees. Keep your back comfortably straight as if being lifted up by a thread from the crown of the head. Sitting near the front of the seat helps lift the spine. Have the feet directly below the knees so creating a right angle at the knee joint. Defocus your eyes and gaze softly into the middle distance.

3) Take three deep breaths slowing down the exhalation if comfortable. Sense your weight dropping down through the body with the out-breath and this brings a sense of being grounded, coming out of the head and deeply into the body. Imagine being in a warm bath, taking out the plug and feeling the warm water draining away. Tension starts to drain from the face and down through the body. You feel the weight of your body supported by the chair and the floor.

The body begins to relax around an upright spine, the mind remains completely awake and alert.

4) Notice the information being gathered by your senses, anything you can smell, hear, taste and the light coming in through your eyes. Allow the eyes to close on the third out-breath.

5) Follow the Short Body Scan App.

6) If you choose to sit in stillness beyond the length of the recording then rest your awareness on the flow of the breath and the sensations arising with the inhalation and exhalation. Feel the rise and fall of the abdomen and the sensation in the nostrils as the flow of air becomes the breath. Follow the full duration of the in breath and the out breath.

If you prefer not to focus on breath then rest awareness on the sensations in your hands; warmth, tingling, lightness, heaviness. Be curious, notice the sensations changing.

7) It is difficult to develop the concentration to follow the breath even for a few seconds. Thoughts will arise and there will always be a thought stream flowing, but the volume and insistence of the thoughts can quieten. When you notice you are following the 'stream', gently and with no judgement, escort the awareness back to settle lightly on the breath or hands - to what is real in this moment.

This brief practice is a way to change the way you relate to your inner world; to observe and listen to yourself in a way you are normally far too busy to do.

'Life is only available in this present moment.' Thich Nhat Hanh

8) To end your practice become aware once again of physical feelings ; your feet on the floor, hips on the chair, hands resting in your lap. Take a few slow deeper in-breaths, move gently and stretch to full awareness.

HH Dalai Lama begins each day with 4 hours of meditation practice but he notes that just 5minutes of daily practice can have profound benefits and in this belief he is supported by numerous research studies. Mindfulness practice frequently improves our physical and emotional health. We feel healthier and calmer and this affects those we live with, work with and meet day to day. The positive effect ripples out.

Enjoy your practice.

To take your practice further look for a Mindfulness Meditation class in your area.

There are also many excellent books on the subject e.g. 'Mindfulness for Dummies' By Shamash Alidina

'The Miracle of Mindfulness' By Thich Nhat Hanh

'Mindfulness a practical guide to Finding Peace In A Frantic World' By Mark Williams and Danny Penman