Sleeping in Savasana

savasana

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There’s a fine line between being present in savasana and being asleep.

A very fine line. I battled with this line during my time in India a few years ago. Living in a Sivananda Yoga Ashram for a few weeks, our days were scheduled from the 5:30am bell for chanting and meditation, to lights out at 10pm. Throughout the day, we had four hours of yoga asana practice, karma yoga (selfless service) and a couple of meals thrown in for good measure. Sivananda Yoga is a form of hatha yoga that follows a set of poses based around a lot of relaxation, which means you are in and out of savasana (corpse pose or final relaxation) a lot. It was hot, I was sleep deprived, in a state of spiritual shock and hungry most of the time—all these factors put together meant I was very, very sleepy. This is a dangerous state to be in while practicing Sivananda Yoga. Every time I found myself in savasana, my hot sticky body horizontal on my yoga mat, I was out like a light. It was to the point that a few times my sister could see I wasn’t moving and had to reach over and touch my hand to jolt me awake, whilst she tried to fight off fits of laughter. I wasn’t alone in this though—I distinctively remember being woken up by the snores of one man echoing throughout the temple, and the silent giggles of the other bodies lying close by. It’s a shame really because I now know that savasana is so much more than a glorified group nap. I enjoyed my time in the ashram (after the initial shock wore off) but I ended up coming back to New Zealand and doing an Ashtanga Yoga teacher training course. Ashtanga Yoga is the complete opposite to Sivananda Yoga, instead of resting between each pose, you’re jumping back into pushups and doing a vinyasa sequence to keep the energy and heat high in the body. Now as a teacher, during savasana I try and encourage my students to go into a place of deep relaxation, while keeping their minds alert and focused. I do always wonder though—should I talk in savasana or is it more effective to stay silent? My beginners struggle with the silence. They are stuck there for 5–10 minutes with nothing but their own thoughts; it can be scary and uncomfortable stuff. Or, they do what I kept doing in India and fall asleep. A few years on from my time in India, I now practice techniques to make sure I don’t drift off to sleep and instead remain in a peaceful and calm state with a focused mind: Breathing: In Ashtanga Yoga the ujjayi breath is very important. This is what creates heat and energy in the body, along with the bandhas (muscle locks). Savasana is the time where we shift from ujjayi breathing to diaphragmatic breathing. It is really important that we do this because if we take the ujjayi breath outside of our yoga asana practice we will be triggered into the fight or flight response—and our anxiety and stress levels will rise. So try this: Bring your attention to your stomach just below the ribcage and direct each in breath into that area. Allow it to rise and fall on each inhalation and exhalation. You may like to place your hands on your stomach as a guide to make sure the air is filling up the diaphragm. Keeping your attention on this action will keep your mind focused. Yes, you’ll still get distracted, or you’ll be so relaxed that you’ll start to feel yourself drift off, but just keep bring yourself back to this movement. Meditate: Who says you have to stay up right in a seated position to meditate? Savasana is a great opportunity to go inward. I sometimes practice loving-kindness (metta) meditation, or just become the observer of my thoughts. Take this opportunity to develop a meditation practice, which you could potentially take out of your yoga class and into your daily life. I do, however, have a confession to make: I still sometimes drift off during savasana. Yes, I know, that’s against everything I’ve just written, but you know what? I don’t beat myself up over it. Sometimes I am so exhausted, I just need a few moments of sleep. And if those moments make me a little bit happier on the inside, then at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

First featured here on elephantjournal.com