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.
4 Yoga Poses to Unlock Emotions
Have you ever felt upset without being able to clearly identify why? It’s not unusual for someone to struggle with identifying what exactly is concerning them.
You may need some time and space to process how you’re feeling and, what
- if anything – you want to do about it. If ignored, this type of disconnect from a person’s sense of self can cause stress, internal conflict and negatively effect relationships.
Breathing, meditation and taking time to slow down can often help provide clarity and a better connection to a person’s sense of self. You can find this through a regular yoga practice and incorporating the following four asanas into a sequence:
Pigeon (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
From downward facing dog, step the left knee through your center and towards your left wrist. Slowly drop the left leg down while moving the foot towards the right hip. Lower on to your mat, keeping both hips parallel. If this is uncomfortable, you can prop up the hip and pelvic muscles by placing a block or blanket under the left hip. Adjust the alignment on the back leg to ensure it’s not falling over to either side. It should be lengthening directly out of your hip rotator. If having the back leg straight is uncomfortable to you, keep a slight bend in the knee. The left foot can stay close to your hip, or if it’s available to you, you can gently extend it forward, keeping the foot flexed. Begin to fold forward and lower the torso to a height that is comfortable to you, maybe bending through the elbows and resting your forehead on the back on your hands.
Pigeon is a fabulous hip opener pose and engages your sacral (Swadhishthana) chakra. Hips are a part of the body where people often hold tension, especially women. Pigeon pose opens both the hip flexors (located on the front of your body) and the hip rotators (located on the back of your body). It can also help release tension in the lower back. In advance versions, a person can simultaneously practice shoulder and chest openers while in this pose.
The awakening of the sacral chakra in your lower belly will help connect you to your emotions, relationships and creativity. Take time in this pose to notice any sensations you feel in your body and breathe into those areas. Focusing on your breath, allow yourself to feel grounded and safe while in this pose. Let it serve as a reminder that everything will be alright.
Stay low and long in this pose for 10-20 breaths on each side.
Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Lying on your back, bend your knees with the soles of your feet flat on the mat and inch your heels a little closer to your hips. Take your hands behind your head, bend through the elbows and place the palms of the hands on the mat, directly under the shoulders, fingertips facing towards your body. Lift the hips as you press into your hands and feet. Press through the upper thighs as you shine your heart upwards.
The Wheel pose is great for allowing yourself to feel vulnerable as it awakens your heart (Anahata) chakra. Releasing the neck and dropping the gaze in this pose will help you to see things differently, maybe give you a new perspective on life. It is especially helpful while mending a broken heart and will encourage you to fill yourself with love, gratitude and appreciation.
Remember to breathe slowly and deeply as your lungs naturally begin to work harder for you. Feel your chest expand and heart soar.
For a less intense variation, enter your Mini Bridge pose.
Work your way up to staying in wheel pose for a minute at a time, for up to three times.
Wisdom Pose (Balasana)
Kneeling on your mat, bring your knees together and sit your bum back your heels. Fold your chest over your thighs and relax your neck, dropping your gaze down and closing the eyes. Place your arms down and back by your side, palms facing up, and release into your shoulders.
This variation of Child’s Pose offers all the same benefits that Child’s does, including balancing your sacral (Swadhishthana) chakra, but this variation allows the shoulders to relax a little bit deeper. It also allows more openness to your thoughts as your stretch the crown of your head towards the front of your mat, inviting your crown (Sahasrara) chakra to open. While resting in this humble and still pose, notice thoughts as they come and go, inviting wisdom and creativity.
If performed with an open mind, the full-body, gravitational pull of Balasana can induce a great sense of physical, mental and emotional release.
Continue to deepen the breath and hold for about a minute.
Supported Corpse (Salamba Savasana)
Take a bolster or roll up a blanket and tuck it under your knees. Lay flat out on your back, on your mat, letting your feet flop open to your sides and hands resting down by your sides, palms facing up. Feel a soft release into the lower spine. Close the eyes, and begin to focus on the natural rhythm of your breath.
This pose will help you relieve stress and bring peace to the mind. Your body should feel relaxed as you take your practice inwards, silently experiencing gratitude and acceptance. If you find tears streaming down your face, let them fall. This is a relaxing and releasing pose – both physically and mentally.
It is suggested a person stay in this pose five minutes for every 30 minutes of practice.
Practice these asanas in your own way, noticing what’s right for you and your body. Become aware of how you feel in them and let your natural energy guide you to your answers. You may be surprised at what surfaces when you can unlock your emotions through the practice of yoga.