Savasana- Not to be Skipped!

Lying on your back on the floor with eyes closed might not seem like an advanced yoga pose, but it is, and it should not be ignored. Savasana, or corpse pose in English, is how most classes end, and what a good ending it is. Dim lights, bundle up, and get comfy, cover the eyes, and just be. Students have asked me if it’s ok to skip Savasana and just jump back into their day; my answer to this question is no.

Here’s why Savasana should not be skipped:

  • Absorb All the Goodness – After the challenging work of a vinyasa flow class, or after long holds in a restorative class, Savasana gives your body and mind the opportunity to soak it all in.
  • You Deserve a Rest – Nap time ended long ago for most of us and we rarely allow ourselves the gift of just taking a break. A yoga class might seem like the only break you need, so why not just get on with they day, right? Wrong – let yourself have a few minutes of quiet before rolling up your mat.
  • Still Your Mind – During a yoga practice the goal is to focus on the breath and movement, but how many of us find our minds wandering to thoughts of dinner, wondering how our poses look, or to the song playing in the car that’s driving by, “Wait, is that Miley Cyrus? I like Miley Cyrus.” Focusing, in other words not being distracted, is a little bit easier in Savasana, since by closing your eyes you shut out the outside world; you let your body lie still as can be, and you let go of even the controlled breath, of the practice. Don’t fidget and try not to sleep. Be sure to be as comfortable as can be before totally letting go. It will be hard at first and maybe for a long time to follow (it took me years to relax in Savasana fully, and there are days when I still struggle,) but try your best to still your mind along with the body. Thoughts will come, but just let them go, do not hold on.

How  To Do Savasna:

  • Make your way to seated. Bring your feet in front of you, firmly planted to the mat with your knees pointing up to the sky. Hold behind your knees for support  raise your arms out in front of you, palms face each other. Slowly, roll back onto your back one vertebrae at a time. If this is difficult for you, then lower one elbow at a time down next to, and slightly behind you, to begin the rolling of your spine on your mat. Then gently lower your entire back onto the mat behind you.
  • Extend your legs out in front of your body down onto your mat. Allow your feet to splay to either side of the mat naturally, toes, feet and ankles relaxed. If you feel any tension in your low back, place your feet flat on the mat (knees point up to the sky,) apply gentle pressure through the feet, and lift your bottom up and off of the floor, think of rolling your pelvis out and down towards your feet. Place your lower body back onto the mat. This should give you more length in the low back.
  • Rest your arms out by your side at an angle, not right next to your body, but a bit away. Flip your palms up to the ceiling; this rolls your shoulder blades down your back. Be very relaxed and let your fingers curl ever so slightly inward towards your palms. Adjust the shoulders until you are perfectly comfortable. There should be no fidgeting after you have found your perfect pose. Keep your eyes closed through the entirety of the pose and keep them closed as the teacher brings you to the end of the class until instructed to open them. Placing an eye pillow on your eyes will block any and all light and is a relaxing touch.

Savasana

It seems like Savasana should be an easy pose, but easy it is not. We are so used to multitasking and filling our schedules that we constantly think about what did or didn’t get done and what has yet to be accomplished. All of this thinking can get overwhelming and lead to anxiety, worry, or stress. By calming the mind we give ourselves a little break. It is inevitable that when you first begin to practice Savasana that you will either A) fall asleep – that’s ok, your body might really need it! or B) continue to think, but keep practicing and it will get easier. Savasana is a yoga pose that requires practice to improve.

May you delight in your practice and destress in your Savasana.

Namaste.

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Spring Equinox 108 Sun Salutations – Lesson in Discipline

Yep, you read that correctly, one-hundred-and-eight Sun Salutations. That was the number that a group of us in Busan, South Korea recently performed for the Spring Equinox to mark the arrival of spring. The number has significance, which I will not go into here, what I want to touch upon is the discipline required to perform such a feat.

It might be hard to grasp how big of a number that is in terms of performing a yoga sequence and in case you are not familiar with what a Sun Salutation is, let me first explain that. There are two primary, traditional Sun Salutations, known as Sun A and Sun B, or Surya Namaskara A and B in Sanskrit. They are routines of poses performed in a quick moving pace, one breath one movement. By their name, you may have guessed that they were traditionally performed in the morning at sunrise to salute the sun, giver of all energy. In western yoga classes they are still performed, but usually long after the hours of sunrise. If you’ve attended a yoga class, chances are are that you performed either, or both A and B as a warm up that begins the class. Typically a teacher guides students through 4-6 salutes as a warm up, and boy do they do the trick to warm up the muscles, so imagine how much heat is created performing 108!!

108

For this event there were six teachers who split the teaching. Each teacher had free reign as to which salute (A and/or B) and whatever modifications they wanted to add on. The first three teachers who taught added a lot of modifications to their sequences, which was a great workout and  a good mental practice. That first section was where the practice of discipline was really honed for me. Thoughts went through my mind such as,

“This is difficult, I wish I could take a rest, but no, keep enduring with everyone else!”

It truly helped to pump through the event with a group. We were all silently working towards the same goal.

You don’t have to be participating in a long event to struggle with endurance in yoga, in any yoga class or in your home practice, you might bump into big walls that try to push you down and defeat you. I have two views on how to react to those overbearing obstacles; first, succumb to the pressure and take a rest; second, kick up some dirt and plow through that bad boy.

To expand, during any physical activity it is good to be reminded and to remind yourself, that it is not necessary to overexert yourself. Not only is it not necessary, but it is generally not safe as injuries can arise. As a teacher, I remind my students to take child’s pose whenever they need to and I enjoy when I see students doing just that because I know that they’re listening to their bodies and giving themselves the rest that they need in the moment.

Saluting the sun.

Saluting the sun.

On the other hand, it’s also good to grit your teeth and go deeper.You have to ask yourself if you really need the break, or if you can push on and complete the pose or sequence (safely.) For if you always slumped into child’s pose instead of giving it one more go, you might never discover that you can accomplish a pose. Also, you wouldn’t be building the strength that comes with those trembling quads in your 42nd warrior pose of the afternoon.

After an intermission of moving entertainment by two fellow yogis, who perfored a stunning acro yoga sequence, we moved on to the last three teachers, I should mention that I was one of the teachers in the last set! At this event I was the final one to lead and for this reason, I switched my lesson plans up a little bit by removing all chaturungs to give achy wrists a break (did anyone just get Achy Breaky Heart in their head? If you didn’t, you do now!) Personally it wasn’t my wrists that needed the break as much as burning triceps! It was very rewarding as a teacher to be able to guide everyone through the final salutes and to give the cue of “Just three more.” and “Last one, you did it!” There were smiles and sighs at the completion of the event. And I’m sure we all learned a little something about ourselves in the push through those 108.

 


This event was organized by Kaizen yoga studio of Busan. It is the wonderfully talented and ambitios Mindy Sisco who has made the equinox and solstice events possible that I have been so fortunate to be a part of. Mindy and her business partner Simon have regular classes at their gym. Schedule and pricing can be found here.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.

Mindy and Simon of Kaizen.

 



Simon of Kaizen is credited with all photos of the Spring Equinox event used in this post.

“I’m bad at yoga” An Untruth of the Ego

Yoga is a practice of body and mind. By synching our breath with our movement, we bring ourselves into the present moment and forget about our worries or anxieties about the past or future, if only for an exhale. To be completely aware is something that needs to be developed and practiced, it does not come easily for most of us. In fact, our minds can often wander into a dark place- our ego.

This is a topic mentioned before in a previous post; it often happens that we got to a yoga class and instead of focusing our dristi (gaze of the eyes) where it should be, we let it roam around the room to our fellow classmates. In doing so, negative comparative thoughts can creep in such as, “Wow, she’s going so much deeper than I am.” or “I wish I wasn’t right next to this insanely flexible girl, I must look terrible.” A good thing to do if you find yourself thinking like that, is to take an audible exhale through the mouth, create a sound like a sigh, and as you do so, imagine that the exhale contains that negative thought and  through the sigh it has been expelled from you.

The ego doesn’t always put you down, sometimes it lifts you up. For example, you might hear the teacher give cues to come into a pose that is new to you, and wow! success! you can do this new and impressive looking pose. In that moment a smile should come to your face and you should feel proud and empowered by your practice. That’s a very healthy feeling to have. Yoga teachers want you to have that feeling in their classes, to explore your body and your limits and progress your practice, but a place that isn’t good to let your mind go to is to compare your practice with the other students in the class in a way that lifts yourself up above them. Don’t get cocky. Try your best not to compare for better or for worse, and if you do, use that breath as a tool to bring your mind into a neutral place focusing on the present again.

Another common happening in yoga is to compare yourself to yourself. You might find frustration when today’s bakasana (crow pose) is less steady than yesterday’s. Exhale it out and remember that your body will perform differently day-to-day depending on an array of factors such as the way you slept, stresses in your life that are causing you to lose focus, if you drank alcohol, etc. You will find differences in not only your balance day-to-day but also in your strength and flexibility.

Yoga is a skill like snowboarding.

Yoga is a skill like snowboarding.

My final thought (for today) on this is to remind you that yoga is a skill. I think that most people come to the conclusion that they have the same two legs and arms as everyone else in the room, so therefore they should be able to do the same things with their bodies. Yes, most of us have the same number of limbs, but they are not “the same.” Due to gender, natural flexibility, lifestyle, other areas of practice, all bodies are totally different. In terms of yoga as a skill, while teaching a class I likened yoga to snowboarding (or insert other individual-skill-based-sport,) you wouldn’t go snowboarding for your first time and feel down about the fact that other people at the resort were pulling tricks in the half-pipe and you could not. That would be an absurd thought to have, so why do people often think that way in yoga? Come to your mat again and again, and one day, maybe years away, you might drop into that half-pipe, but if you don’t, don’t worry about it, just enjoy where your practice is today.

To have thoughts like these are utterly normal while practicing yoga. I have had students come up to me and vocalize such thoughts by asking, “How were my poses today?” or “It’s been a while, so I’m bad.” and I reply to them by saying that there is no such thing and that their practice is perfect, for them, today. I’ll come out and admit that I still have these thoughts now and again, especially as a teacher, I sometimes think, “I should be able to do that- I’ve practiced long enough.” When my pesky mind goes into that dark corner, I smile, shake my head a little, and exhale it away.