Friday night was the start of our fourth teacher training weekend. This month, our topics were relaxation, pratyahara, and meditation; on Friday we talked about relaxation, and savasana in particular.
In Western culture, we tend to rely on external things in order to relax: TV, computers, music, video games, alcohol, social events, all kinds of things that are external. We fill our lives with these things, telling ourselves that they help us to relax, but really when we depend on external things to help us relax, we become unable to relax without those things. In yoga, all you need to relax is yourself. Relaxation in savasana is an active, conscious process, but one that relies on nothing but your own mind and body.
Savasana, or corpse/rest pose, is the final pose at the end of a yoga class. After working hard and exerting yourself throughout your yoga practice, you come down to the floor, lie on your back, let your feet flop open and your arms rest and your eyes close. Although it’s an easy pose physically, savasana is said to be the most difficult of all yoga poses, because it’s here that you lie still, quieting and slowing down your mind. For many people, it’s incredibly difficult simply to be still; for others, it’s hard to release all the tension that builds up in the body. Many students come into savasana but can’t keep their eyes shut, can’t stop moving (maybe scratching an itch, maybe adjusting their clothing, maybe just moving around), can’t quiet the mind. I’m a victim of this too as much as anybody.
What I learned on Friday night is that savasana, like any yoga pose, needs to be practiced actively. In most yoga poses, you’re active physically; for example, in Warrior 2, I’m always thinking, is my knee right over my ankle, is my back leg straight, am I pressing through the back foot, are my arms high enough, is my core balanced, are my abs engaged. Even when I’m just holding the pose, I’m actively working to improve my posture. In savasana, you do the same work, but you do it just in your mind, working to observe the breathing and observe the mind, to let the body relax, and to learn to enjoy being still. In yoga asana practice we exert conscious effort; in savasana we enter conscious relaxation.
As a yoga teacher in training, it’s important that I learn how to teach savasana. If even I still have trouble surrendering and relaxing in this pose, then my future students certainly will. Many yoga studios, and especially yoga teachers at gyms and fitness centers, do not really teach their students how to relax, so this is crucially important for me to learn.
Savasana is valuable because it allows the body to truly relax. Did you ever have a night where your dreams were so vivid and so engaging that, when you woke up in the morning, you felt like you didn’t get any rest? The mind interprets dreams as if they’re really happening, so all night long while we dream we’re still working. In savasana, when it’s done correctly, you can properly, consciously relax. J told us about a past teacher of his who never seemed to sleep, because he got all his rest during savasana so that he didn’t need to sleep at night. That’s a little extreme, but savasana or conscious relaxation can give us that little bit of extra rest to help us feel refreshed and ready to tackle the day’s problems.
On Friday night, we talked about all these aspects of savasana. We did a little basic stretching, and then N put us into a deep relaxation. She used a 61-point relaxation exercise and talked us through it. We all left the yoga center on Friday night feeling profoundly relaxed and calm. I got a great night’s sleep on Friday night (although at least one of my classmates reported a restless night, as if the deep relaxation had thrown off her usual rest patterns). The experience made me think a lot about my usual practice of savasana, and ways to consciously improve my experience of this pose.