(A post from years ago I share again at a request from a student.) I was teaching Restorative Yoga the other night and had an insight about my own practice. I used to avoid Restorative Yoga (including Savasana) more than any other types of poses. I have always thought it was because I couldn’t sit still. Tonight, I realized it was about “not doing” and “not struggling”. I hadn’t realized how much in my life I felt I needed to struggle to do. Any success or accomplishments were more satisfying (in other words, they “counted”) when I had worked hard for them. (How many of you appreciate your own gifts? The things that come easy for you? I bet you take them for granted or don’t even see them as well!) I certainly needed to work hard at my exercise whether it was aerobics or yoga. Tonight I learned my greater lesson was the benefit of not doing, of surrender, of not struggling and the benefits that can come from letting go.
When our students have an injured place in their body, they hold their body in an imbalanced way as a result. Initially the imbalance is necessary, it keeps the injured place safe so it can heal. But the longer the injury lasts, the more the imbalance becomes habitual rather then necessary. I am sure you have experienced a student who stands as if she is pregnant and her youngest is 18 or someone who favors one leg in Tadasana and realizes it is from a sprained ankle he had ten years earlier.
When we have an imbalance, whether from a real current injury or an old habitual one, we are not allowing energy to flow evenly. Our body "skips" over areas of tension or injury (again whether it is current or habitual.) Our brain has literally begun to see the imbalance as balance.
We need to retrain the brain to see the body as balanced so the energy can flow again and balance can be restored. An easy and very powerful way you can begin to affect their injury is to have them envision balance in Savasana (Ending Relaxation Pose). Have them imagine their sides as feeling equal. Have them imagine their breath flowing equally through both sides as well.
You can also guide them to begin the process of no longer seeing the injured side as the “bad” or “injured” side. The more they can see the sides as equal, the faster a healing can occur. I have used this technique often in my own practice. It is indeed powerful!
Here is a quickie adjustment you can make in Savasana to help some of your students find a more comfortable position and a more relaxing Savasana. Have you noticed that when you lie down flat to move into Savasana your pelvis wants to tip anteriorly, creating a stronger lower back arch? In Savasanayou need to consciously tuck the tail a bit to be in the neutral position the lower back needs to release fully.
For about 20% of your students (my guess based on my experience), their psoas, the deep hip flexor muscle, is too tight to be able get a good enough tuck to release the back. When you watch, they can keep their pelvis neutral/level with the floor until their legs are almost fully straight. As they take their legs that last little bit, the pelvis tips and the lower back pops up. (I am in that 20% of people). With the lower back over-arched, tension creeps in, whether or not they are aware of it. I still don’t feel tension – which is why I never noticed for the first decade of my practice. What I do feel now is that the energy flow isn’t there when my back is arched.
All you need to do to help them is to place a folded blanket under their thighs. Ahhh…heaven.
Two quick thoughts about Savasana (Corpse/Relaxation Pose):
If you are guiding your students into a Savasana, be sure to sit in one place. It is much harder for students to deeply relax if the speaker is moving all around the room.
If you are walking around the room, making adjustments, changing the music, etc., be sure to walk as far away from your students as possible and walk by their feet rather than their heads. Even when they are deeply relaxed, there is a sense of movement they can feel and having someone walk by your head will make them nervous.
This idea originally comes from Lilias Folan when I studied with her 22 years ago! (In fact, she was the first "famous" yoga teacher I studied with.) Anyway, I was reminded of this lovely meditation last week in class. I have been working hard getting grounded and strong in my standing poses and now it is time to soften that "work" to bring in the heart.
You can do this meditation anytime anywhere. It makes a lovely Savasana (Corpse Pose), as well.
To do it, simply bring in the feeling you have in your body just before you smile. Feel your energy brighten! Your vibration literally goes up! I liken it to adding fresh lemon juice to a dish just before you serve it. It lightens and brightens the food.
So, next time you build a strong Tadasana (Mountain Pose), or are standing in line at the grocery store, or settling in for a Savasana (Corpose Pose), feel your smile!
...it takes 15-17 minutes for the body to relax? It is then that Savasana really begins...
...your hands and feet must be warm for your body to relax?
...the room must be darkened?
...there are three stages of Savasana:
1. Physiological relaxation 2. Pratyahara -- When you are no longer distracted by your senses. 3. Ashunya -- You only know you have achieved this after the fact. You have a feeling of having "returned" from somewhere. Your teacher maybe had to "wake" you but you know you weren't asleep.
...Savasana is the MOST important of all the poses and
...I suspect the one most skipped...
...Savasana will help reset your nervous system barometer to a slower level. (In other words, it helps you relax.)
...Savasana helps you reset old patterns, physiological, emotional, mental, spiritual, you name it!
...Savasana helps you absorb the benefits of your practice.
...can be done anytime, not necessarily right after your asana session. Do it right before bed!
I was teaching class last week and chuckled as my class heaved itself
out of Savasana (Relaxation Pose). It definitely brought up my desire to speak on the
purpose of Savasana, especially discussing how exiting Savasana is an
essential aspect to maintaining the essence of the pose. So, let’s look
at the purpose of Savasana on a purely physical level.
physical level, yoga helps us release the nervous system and relax it,
at least a bit. The nervous system is our body’s way of communicating
to its various parts quickly. It controls our breathing, heart
activity, among many other things. For our purpose, the most important
responsibility of the nervous system is it controls the stress we feel
as well as our relaxation. In our society and culture, we rev our
nervous system at a high level. Using an analogy, it is quite similar
to revving a car engine. At times this “revving” is quite beneficial
because it helps us “take off” as soon as we hear a “go”. Most of the
time, though, it is an unnecessary action that slowly takes its toll
on our body. Unfortunately, it easily becomes a habit, especially when
we are exposed to as much as we are in our culture. We then begin to
think in a revved state and hold our body in a revved state, slowly
When we do yoga, we begin to retrain the nervous
system. The brain and the spine are the core of the nervous system.
Yoga moves the spine around in all directions, freeing tight and frozen
muscles and bringing new awareness and life to the nerves. This
movement also helps retrain the body for new habits instead of the same
old ones. When we continue to hold the body in the old way, it
maintains the old thoughts. As we move the body in new ways, we begin
to introduce new ways of being.
Savasana gives us a time to let
the body integrate the new knowledge, the new way of being we learned
during our practice. Just as studying to take an exam gives you an
opportunity to review the knowledge you gained during a semester in
school, when we rob the body of that opportunity, it easily falls back
into its old way of being, the old habits, especially the nervous
So, skipping Savasana is almost akin to not doing a
practice at all. Yoga will still help without it, but your time in
Savasana helps imprint the new way in your body.
So, now we
come back to where we began, what does hopping out of Savasana do? When
you hop up out of Savasana, you easily grip muscles that can rev the
nervous system again and cause the old habits to creep back in.
Instead, come out slowly. Begin by bending your knees to release your
lower back. Roll to one side and rest for a moment. Then, use your
upper hand to press you up, keeping your upper leg relaxed. Let your
head hang until you are sitting fully upright. Then lift your head.
Keeping your head low helps deactivate the stimulation of the nervous
system. Ahh…doesn’t that feel better?
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of restoring ourselves and our students. Our nervous systems are over-stimulated and taxed in our society, especially during the holiday season. People come to yoga to find balance in their lives and then we skip over Savasana, giving them a few minutes to unwind before going back out into the world. Did you know it takes somewhere between 17 and 20 minutes for the physical body to relax? We need Savasana, especially this time of year.
Judith Lasater recommends doing Savasana 20 minutes each day, one restorative practice each week, and a week of restorative practices once a year. (She dedicates the week between Christmas and New Year’s as her restorative time.)
My tip for you this week is to make your Savasanas longer. Treat your students to a long visualization or silence to help them counter the frenetic pace in which our cultures engages this time of year. Treat yourself to extra-long daily Savasanas.
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