The Journey of Savasana

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Diving Into the Mystery, Remembering How to Let Go

“Remember fear for what it is, resistance to the unknown.” -Terry Tempest Williams

Pause, take a deep breath. Invite the possibility to read this article with a soft face and receptive eyes.

Intrigued by the experiences of letting go, deep rest and the healing which unfolds on this journey, this article dives into the questions and uncertainties which are at the essence of savasana.

First, consider when and where you take savasana?

What position do you come to rest in? And, are you really, lovingly, giving yourself an opportunity to let go?

Put on a few layers to be sure you are warm enough. A thick blanket over your body is a nice way to encourage the body’s surrender to gravity…like a gravity blanket resting over your skin layer. And, an eye pillow or a scarf over the eyes can really help to allow the eyes and brain cavity to relax into earth. Take adequate time to adjust and if you have aches and pains in your body, consider using props and bolsters to support yourself. Some options I like are a bolster behind the upper thigh bones, thin blocks under the backs of the palms (allows forearms and hands to soften), or a rolled up blanket in the hollow space behind the neck.

How much time to you give yourself? Or, how much time do you give your class, if you are a teacher? In this busy world of time, it seems that this universally beneficial posture often gets squeezed in, or used simply as a way to recover from a sweaty yoga class.

“It is to relinquish who you are and to let go of life’s concerns into the merest of being alive. Such letting go into the smooth presence of simple being is not the kind of visible, salable skill a businessman or a violinist might develop. But, it is not at all trivial. To really let go, to not try, not even a little, is its’ own kind of mastery.” -Robert Forman

Second, consider how you drop in and how you retreat from the posture?

Once you are set, settle and breathe. Feel the parts of your body that touch earth. Feel the parts of the body that touch sky. You are the space between earth and sky. Receive the breathe through the layers of your being. Explore flickering the eyes , open and closed, almost unconsciously, as you drop into savasana. This is almost a mimicry of the dying process, slowly, slowly, letting go.

Can you have an intention to let go and simultaneously receive the unfolding as it manifests inside of you?

When the time comes to retreat from the womb of savasana; pause.

Pause.

Feel the parts of your body that touch earth. Feel the parts of your body that touch sky. You are the space between earth and sky. Let the mystery unfold in the space between the inner landscape of your body and the outer landscape of this world. Absorb the residue which lingers, right now. However you are inspired to, move slowly towards seated.

Lastly, consider the broader questions/ideas below. Look inwards for the edges of relaxation and see what you find. For me, it’s smooth edges, endless space and deep mystery. It’s sometimes scary, sometimes sleepy, and always a journey of truth, which asks me to peel back the layers and really show up for the truth of my life.

  1. Does your yoga practice prepare you for savasana?

What is the transition like, for you, between movement and stillness?

When the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated throughout the yoga practice, it is much more natural for our whole being to move towards a state of letting go. Even in a dynamic movement flow, if the tone of the movement remains soft and fluid, we are much more in tune with the basic primal rhythms of life (primary respiration, heart-beat, breath, etc) and as a result we can more deeply merge with the earth energies as we relax into savasana.

  1. Why is it often referred to as the most important pose?

Given that one of the only certainties in life is death, facing our own mortality seems something interesting to ponder and even, perhaps, practice. And, perhaps facing death allows us to really come into contact with intentions for how we want to live our lives, here and now.

  1. Notice and embrace the shifts in your practice?

Resist labeling your savasana practice as good or bad. Some days, weeks or years, we are going through life events and relaxation is inevitably not easy. Rather then avoiding it all together, create a safe space and be gentle and open with yourself.

If you have had trauma in your life, savasana can often be the place where it resurfaces. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, just an opportunity to revisit and move through events, which are still residing in the tissues of our being.

“Once again there was a pervasive silence and once again I waited for the onset of fear to break it up. But this time the fear never came…within, all was still, silent and motionless. In the stillness, I was not aware of the moment when the fear and tension of waiting had left. Still I continued to wait for a movement not of myself and when no movement came, I simply remained in a great stillness…Once outside, I fully expected to return to my ordinary energies and thinking mind, but this day I had a difficult time because I was continually falling back into the great silence.” -Bernadette Roberts



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.

Stillness

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)

Optional items

  • Sand timer
  • Soft music
  • Candles

10 Yin Yoga Poses

1. Chest and Shoulder Expansion

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.

 

6. Lizard

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.

7. Pigeon

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.

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