The technique of relaxation of the tropical atmosphere towards an analysis in a month-season forecast model has previously been successfully exploited in a number of contexts. Here it is shown that when tropical relaxation is used to investigate the possible origin of the observed anomalies in June–July 2007, a simple dynamical model is able to reproduce the observed component of the pattern of anomalies given by an ensemble of ECMWF forecast runs. Following this result, the simple model is used for a range of experiments on time-scales of relaxation, variables and regions relaxed based on a control model run with equatorial heating in a zonal flow. A theory based on scale analysis for the large-scale tropics is used to interpret the results. Typical relationships between scales are determined from the basic equations, and for a specified diabatic heating a chain of deductions for determining the dependent variables is derived. Different critical time-scales are found for tropical relaxation of different dependent variables to be effective. Vorticity has the longest critical time-scale, typically 1.2 days. For temperature and divergence, the time-scales are 10 hours and 3 hours, respectively. However not all the tropical fields, in particular the vertical motion, are reproduced correctly by the model unless divergence is heavily damped. To obtain the correct extra-tropical fields, it is crucial to have the correct rotational flow in the subtropics to initiate the Rossby wave propagation from there. It is sufficient to relax vorticity or temperature on a time-scale comparable or less than their critical time-scales to obtain this. However if the divergent advection of vorticity is important in the Rossby Wave Source then strong relaxation of divergence is required to accurately represent the tropical forcing of Rossby waves.