September 1, 2015

The Most Difficult Posture in Any Yoga Class.

"Corpses," ideowl, Flickr

It should be simple.

All you have to do is lie down with your eyes closed and relax.

That’s it.

There’s no twist, or balance or physical strain of any kind. The goal of savasana or corpse pose is simply to let go. Yet savasana is often the most difficult posture in class, both for the student and the instructor.

Why is it so hard to relax?

The purpose of savasana is to reset the nervous system and let the physical practice sink into the body. Every muscle softens—from the pinky toe to the crown of the head. It’s also a moment for meditation and, for many participants, it is the sole time in their day devoted to the mind-body connection.

When I first started taking yoga, I didn’t get savasana.

My initial classes were usually Bikram Yoga, where students are left in savasana at the end of class and told to rest as long as they need, then rise and exit. I was always the student whose eyes popped open the instant the teacher stopped talking and got up to leave.

It seemed silly to lie prone in a group of sweaty strangers.

It wasn’t until I transitioned out of Bikram classes that I started getting a different type of savasana. Yoga teachers would wind the class down and ask students to lie peacefully and relax—then go silent—-but we weren’t allowed to get up and leave.

I remember having no idea what to do at first.

I would lie on the mat, shut my eyes and hope that it wouldn’t last too long.

My mind would always run through a mental roster of what I had on the agenda after class. As soon as the yoga teacher invited students to start moving, I was squirming to sit up, ready to Namaste out of the room.

At some point after I’d been going to yoga consistently for months, I started to let myself unwind during savasana. A few teachers did helpful meditations that walked me through relaxing each muscle, and I let go. It started to physically surprise me when an instructor would speak again, drawing me out of my rest.

Eventually I would have intense personal revelations when I would let go in an attempt at full physical and mental relaxation. It’s was funny to have a moment where I would finally stop thinking about anything, only to realize that I’d started thinking about not thinking! But even those brief moments of surrender were and still are precious and fleeting.

Those glimpses of peace were what made me want to become a yoga teacher.

In my 200-hour yoga teacher training, my classmates were all fans of a long and restful savasana. During my first forays into teaching practice classes, all of my students/fellow classmates immediately dropped into a pleasant stupor as soon as the word “savasana” left my lips. It seemed like the easiest posture for me to teach.

Outside of the vacuum of training though, students are often less inclined towards relaxation. So far I’ve had students drum fingers, twitch, fart, blatantly look around or even walk out during savasana.

It let me to wonder how do I now, as a new teacher, get my students to have a meaningful savasana?

So far, I’ve found that communication is key.

I try to prepare students as I wind down the class by letting them know that there’s a resting posture coming up. That helps to set their expectations, especially if they’re new to yoga.

Then as students begin the posture, I try to explain its importance. I let them know that savasana allows the nervous system to reset and lets the physical practice to sink in. I also let them know it’s a time to meditate and relax. Sometimes I’ll even give a time estimate on how long they’ll be resting so they know it won’t go on forever.

When it’s time to pull students out of savasana, I’ll often remind them that it’s important to be mindful and follow instructions to come out slowly, taking only small movements to start. I’ll invite students to keep eyes closed and move at an easy, gentle pace.

This level of communication has been incredibly helpful. I’ve also begun to do meditations, similar to the ones I received, that walk students through relaxing different muscle groups until each muscle is slack. This has also been instrumental in improving the quality of savasana that I teach and that my students obtain.

As a teacher, I’m still learning to let go.

Some students aren’t physically or mentally prepared to relax in a shared space.

That doesn’t indicate a failing on my part as an instructor though.

We’re all at different places in our yoga journeys, and all I can do is try to help others along the path.



And What the Bleep Does the Yoga Teacher Do During Savasana?


Author: Julie Zack Yaste

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: ideaowl/ Flickr

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Julie Zack Yaste