4 Ways to Make Savasana Sweeter
At the end of yoga class, it’s often joked that Savasana is the most difficult pose of all. It didn’t take me long to realize that there may be some truth to this joke. Many beginners struggle with Savasana, either falling asleep or hanging on to their thoughts, forbidding clarity and relaxation to sink in.
One of the reasons I developed a commitment to yoga was the paltry $5 difference between signing up for only yoga classes and tacking on a full gym membership. I seldom went upstairs to the gym. Movement on the machines felt unnatural and I was intimidated by the bulky dudes in tight shirts. Meanwhile, I found the yoga classes soothing. I sweated out so many toxins and worked on my flexibility, but there was something that regularly happened in class that annoyed the sweet prana right out of me.
When it was time for the exquisitely long 15 minutes of well-deserved Savasana, some unknowns upstairs would start their heavy weightlifting routine. Loud thuds and trembling shock waves distracted my focus and raised feelings of anger and rage. I thought about going upstairs to complain, but I wasn’t inclined to start an argument with buff dudes who could kick my skinny ass.
I didn’t realize until my teacher training that this aggravation was allowing me to practice aparigraha, or non-attachment, by letting go of thoughts and emotions, either positive or negative. After about four months, those thuds sounded like a light knock on the door of my perception; I had learned to withdraw from my senses and my active mind.
Here are four ways to improve the Savasana experience, both in your personal practice and when you’re teaching class.
Learn and Practice Yoga Nidra
Yoga Nidra is a technique that guides students through various parts of their bodies. It works by increasing the awareness of sensations in the muscular, connective and nerve tissues by breathing into them to send a signal of relaxation.
If done right, one can feel the energy flow up and down through the chakras. Eventually, it’s possible to dissolve sensations from the body altogether. It’s like having a voice-guided eraser that slowly fades your body into the ether.
There are many Yoga Nidra meditation recordings out there, and some teachers like to guide their students through a session during Savasana. However, due to time limits at studios, it’s best to incorporate in a home practice to allow yourself the extra time.
Mystical Music or Silence
Traditionally, yoga was done without music, much less meditation. It wasn’t until yoga came to the West that teachers started to notice the addition of music adds more flow and rhythm to a class. In the end, it really comes down to the preference of the individual.
Being a “Cosmic DJ” is no easy feat. We often let our personal musical preferences filter into our sacred tracks, be it mantras, Kirtan, white sounds or Enya. I’ve had some teachers play great songs through class and then choose an awful track for Savasana that was distracting or too intense.
My recommendation is to experiment and find tracks that take you to another dimension. If you live in a quiet town or deep in the woods, these locations allow for moments of silence; work with that and get a little Tibetan bowl timer in case you drift too deeply.
One of the most powerful resources available to us is our imagination. I’ve found that using my imagination for visualizations has led me to profound and prolonged sessions of peace, quiet and rest. Here are three visualizations that help the mind let go.
The Big Blue Sky
Bring your awareness to the color blue, as if you were lying down on the earth looking up at the sky. Feel the warmth of the sun on your body and start to breathe in the fresh air. Any thought that passes through your mind, give it the shape of a big, fluffy cloud. If a thought is more negative, make the cloud more stormy and grey.
As you inhale, summon the power of the wind element, and as you exhale, watch how the clouds slowly drift away. Continue attaching thoughts to cloud shapes and breathe them away until nothing remains except blue bliss.
This visualization is a personal favorite inspired by Pema Chodron’s quote, “You are the sky, everything else is just the weather.”
The Ocean of Consciousness
Imagine you are sitting on a deserted beach in front of the crashing waves. Imagine that each wave is a thought or feeling. Let the wave slowly rise and fall as it crashes and dissolves in the sand.
As the breath deepens, so do the waves. Ask yourself, Where are these waves coming from? Their source is the depths of your mind. Imagine standing on the shores of your own consciousness, witnessing the waves arriving and dissolving. Realize you are not just the waves, but the whole ocean.
(This visualization works great with some ambient wave sounds.)
The Theater and the Ghost Light
Imagine that the mind is a stage, and your awareness is auditioning thoughts to see how well they perform. Some are funny, others are dramatic, and there’s the occasional poetic script read.
Imagine that your cue to let each thought go is a deep breath. As you start to slow your breath, you notice the stage lights are slowly fading out. The stage turns dark except for a white light that’s keeping the ghosts from the past and future away.
This light is your anchor to the present moment. It’s the light that shines within you and illuminates other beings with love, compassion and kindness. With every inhale, let these positive feelings sink in and watch how the light glimmers brighter and brighter.
Last but not least, aromatherapy is an effective way to calm the mind and relax the body. A diffuser works like a charm to spread the scent through a whole room, but there’s nothing more powerful than rubbing a little dab of oil right on the third eye, the base of the neck and the temples. Some favorite essential oils for Savasana are lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang, rose, jasmine, melissa and geranium.
Yin Yoga Poses
This article is an exploration of 10 Yin yoga poses. Yin is a style that is practiced by holding poses for a long time in a relaxed state. Yin stands in contrast to other contemporary styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa or Hatha, which generally move the practitioner from pose to pose quickly. Yin yoga ‘asana’, the Sanskrit word for poses, are practiced by following the three principles that Bernie Clark explains in Yin Yoga with Bernie Clark.
Three Principles of Yin Yoga
- Principal 1: Play with your edge
- Principal 2: Stillness
- Principal 3: Hold for Time
Play With Your Edge
Yin is a lunar practice, which tends to be healing and cooling. Unlike solar practices such as sun salutations, yin does not call for heating postures, breathing styles, or sequencing. Therefore the muscles are typically not warm throughout a Yin practice. Entering into poses with cool muscles requires special attention to the first edge.
The first edge is found by gently getting into the shape of a pose and noticing where the body naturally wants to stop. Yielding the natural limitations of the body prevents injury. There should be no pain at the first or any other edge, yet there may be some discomfort. Discomfort without radiating pain is a sign that the connective tissue around the joints is stretching. Reasonable discomfort is a gateway to more flexibility and greater range of motion. Props can add additional comfort and accessibility to yin yoga poses.
You may experience strong physical sensations during a Yin practice such as heat or discomfort. Finding the first edge is a method of exploring the strong sensations and sitting with them. When yoga asana is briefly mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, they are prescribed to be Sthira sukham asanam, or done with steadiness and ease. Steadiness points to the second principal, stillness, which is explored later in the article.
About 30-60 seconds into a pose, or if and when the body shows signs of being able to go deeper, it is safe to move to the second edge (or third or forth). It is important that the body, not the ego, give the signal to deepen. This humble practice never asks the yogi to prove or force anything. There is no need to try to “achieve” or to look a certain way. Gentleness, acceptance and honesty are critical in a yin practice. If the body starts to tighten, it’s a sign to slowly come out of the pose.
Classical yoga was practiced as a means to still the mind for meditation. Sitting still in yin yoga poses lets the contemporary yogi dip their toes into the waters of deep meditation. One exception to stillness is when the body opens to a new edge. With the awareness that the body is ready to deepen, Yin yogis consciously move deeper and return again to stillness and breath. Another exception to stillness is the awareness of pain. In response to pain, it’s time to come out of the pose slowly.
Hold for Time
The third principal is to hold the poses for time. Poses can last anywhere from one minute to longer than 15 and in general are done for 5-10 minutes. Using a timer tells you how long you are staying still, which can be a way to gauge stillness from practice to practice. A timer can also ensure that both sides of the body get the same amount of time, which results in feeling delightfully balanced. The breath can continue to deepen the longer a pose is held. The lungs can expand seemingly forever. Counting breath is an interesting way to observe the expansive nature of the breath, which becomes possible during long holds. Profound experiences become accessible only when conscious and deepening pranayama is practiced.
Breathing expansively while remaining still presents the practitioner with what is rarely otherwise observed: the quiet inner dance of consciousness, an inner world so rich and mysterious, it is invisible most of the time. Holding (still) for time never seemed so tempting.
What Do You Need to Practice Yin Yoga?
- Yoga mat or as an alternative, a thick blanket or carpet.
- Yoga blankets and bolsters or as an alternative, towels and pillows nearby
- Blocks or (or books if you have none)
- Sand timer
- Soft music
10 Yin Yoga Poses
Sit cross-legged, your right side adjacent to the wall, reach your right hand back so the palm is flat against the wall at about shoulder height. Scoot your right hip in closer to the wall if you feel you can safely tolerate more stretch. Once the shoulder feels settled, bend the arm so you have the palm directly above the elbow at the height of your gaze. Sit and breathe for several moments. If you feel you can safely deepen, allow the left hand to come beside and slightly behind your left hip and press fingertips into the floor. Lift and open your chest. Slowly drop the left shoulder down and perhaps the chin and gaze point follow. Stay for 1-5 minutes breathing gently.
2. Lower Back Pose
Sit on a cushion if you have tight hamstrings or flat on the mat for more open hamstrings. Let the legs extend and relax so that the feet flop out gently to their respective sides. Knees can be slightly bent. Pressing the fingertips downward into the ground beside the hips, lengthen the heart higher in contrast. Then tuck the chin into the chest. Let the upturned palms fall to the outside of the thighs near the knees. Allow the upper spine to round. For your second edge, the hands may move down the legs closer to the ankles. Remember not to strive or do too much. Stay and breathe 1-5 minutes.
3. West-Facing Pose
This pose just like the lower back pose, sitting up legs relaxed and extended. Place one bolster over your thighs. Lift though the chest as you inhale and as you exhale fold forward and down, hinging from the hips so as to keep length in the low back. If you are not able to lay upon the cushion, add more props until you can easily lay your chest and face on them. Find your first edge. At this time you may determine to remove or reduce the props so that you can go deeper. Stay in the pose for 1-5 minutes. Note, this pose is called “west-facing” because it is cooling, like the setting sun, which sets in the west.
4. Wide Leg Child Pose
On your mat, add cushion beneath the knees using a blanket or towel. Bring the knees as wide or wider than the mat and big toes to touch or towards one another. Press your hips back toward the heels and walk your hands forward as you fold from the hips. Imagine a gentle anchor keeps the hips downward and the low back spreading wide. From there, stretch the arms, chest and head forward and down. If the head cannot touch the floor, put a block or folded blanket beneath it so it can rest. You may prefer to rest upon the forehead or to turn the head to one side and then the other. Let your arms and hands relax into the floor. Notice your edge and deepen if and when it feels right. Come out if the knees start to bother you, moving slowly. Practice for 1-5 minutes.
5. Wide Leg Child Pose, Thread the Needle Variation
From wide leg child pose, slightly raise the head and walk the right hand back. Thread the right hand under the left until the right shoulder is on the ground and put the right temple on the floor. Repeat on the left side. Practice 1-5 minutes on each side.
Come to your hands and knees with a folded blanket under the knees for padding. Bring your right foot forward so it is just to the right on the right hand, make sure your shoulders are over the wrists. The right knee stacks over the right ankle so your shin may feel as though it is moving forward in space. If the right knee pops out to the right, redirect it over the ankle, pressing down into the right foot and imagine pressing the shin forward.
If needed, bring your hands up on blocks, lift through the chest, curl the left toes under and squeeze the left leg so the thigh lifts off the ground. This will cause the thigh to rotate internally, which means the alignment is now safe for deepening. Now , bringing the left knee down onto the blanket and then flatten the top of left foot into the mat. You may stay like that or bring your elbows onto the blocks to deepen. You may end up with no blocks, elbows on the mat beneath the shoulders or you may end up staying high on blocks. Honor where the body needs to go and remain for 1-5 minutes before repeating on the other side.
Place a flat bolster horizontally across the mat or a folded blanket about halfway down the length of the mat. Place both knees on the bolster. Bring the right knee forward of the cushion in front of the right hip and the foot toward on left side of the mat. Place the palms on blocks beneath the shoulders and bring the left leg back so that the thigh and top of left foot are pressing into or towards the floor. Let the pelvis be supported by the cushion. You may stay upright, opening the chest, or choose to ease yourself down, perhaps deepening to the point where your head rests on blocks or on the floor. Remain in the pose 1-5 minutes and repeat on the other side.
8. Supported Reclined Butterfly
The use of props to recline makes this supportive and relaxing. To do so, place a block the tall way and another the short way so they make an L. Lay a bolster or supportive cushion over the blocks so that it a slanted toward the floor. Place yourself with your back against the lower part of the cushion with the souls of your feet touching. To keep the feet together and to allow the hips to relax, use a strap or a long rolled blanket to wrap the feet.
9. Supported Gentle Fish
Place a block at medium height near the top of the mat. Sit so the block is behind you with the legs extended and relaxed. Lay your back over the blocks so they land between your shoulder blades boosted your heart up. Let your head relax back onto a block, making sure the neck is supported. Allow the arms to pour open and drip into the floor on either side. Breathe into the heart and let the body seep down onto the props. As your edge moves, notice the chest may boost higher. Remain 1-5 minutes.
10. Corpse Pose/ Savasana
Lay on the mat on your back. Let the arms and legs relax. Arms by your sides, feet slightly flop out. If your lower back is uncomfortable place blocks or a cushion under the knees. Stay as long as you wish. Let go of doing and drop into being.
Photos courtesy of author Lara Hocheiser and featuring Blair Smalls.