It's easy to have a love-hate relationship with Savasana. On the one hand, it's a much-needed time to relax (or even meditate) after a successful yoga class—something we crave. On the other, right when the instructor cues you to lie on your back, it's only natural to start thinking about all the things you should be doing besides lying on the mat doing nothing (and then spend the next 10 minutes stressing about said things).
Fortunately, there are ways to make the most of the last few minutes of class, keep your brain from wandering, and make the time both invigorating and relaxing. Whether you want to chill out or slip into a meditative state, here's what top yoga instructors suggest.
If You Want a Meditative Session…
All kinds of thoughts and emotions (some wanted, others not so much) can bubble up during a yoga practice. The good news: "Savasana is a wonderful time to be fully present with welcoming these sensations," says Allison English, a Chicago-based yoga instructor. For a mindful few minutes on the mat, try these techniques.
Practice progressive relaxation. This practice involves relaxing and contracting various areas of your body, which helps you feel the sensations of engagement and relaxation from your practice, explains English. How to do it: After your inhale, you might hold your breath and contract all the muscles of your face tightly. On your slow exhale, you'd release the contraction. This helps you be more present with your body at the end of your practice, and it also cultivates a deeper relaxation of the nervous system and tissues, English notes.
Do some breath counting (Sama Vritti). You know connecting with your breath matters when it comes to being meditative, but this strategy is all about feeling the movement of your inhalations and exhalations and matching their lengths. (Inhale for a long count of three, then as you exhale, count it to match your inhalation.) Says English: "When exhalation is balanced to inhalation, energy, mind, and body feel balanced and even slightly invigorated."
Grab a block. The light pressure of a yoga block on your tummy can help you recognize the rise and fall of your breath, says Sarah Girard, a yoga instructor at various Equinox locations in New York City. "This is a great time to get really specific about the way in which the breath feels cool upon entry and warm upon exiting the body." Doing this can help you begin a breath-focused meditation, such as Vipassana meditation practice, she says, which anchors your mind deeply to follow your breath.
If You Want to Totally Chill and Relax…
If you've looked forward to a few minutes of "me" time to do absolutely nothing (because when else can you do that?), a chill Savasana—where you can let go and let be—is for you. Set yourself up for relaxation with these calming strategies.
Get comfy. To fully relax, you want to do everything that'll help you feel as relaxed as possible, says English. So prop your legs over some bolsters, wrap yourself in blankets, pull on your cozy hoodie, and cover your eyes, too. You'll eliminate any visual stimulation that can keep you too alert. "Dialing down the fight-or-flight response and dialing up the rest-and-digest nervous system is a very important skill in modern society," says Heather Peterson, of CorePower Yoga. Plus, helping the physical body relax also helps your nervous system and brain reach a calm state, she notes.
Practice "witnessing." For some serious chill out time, English suggests trying out the practice of witnessing—or seeing everything you experience as if you are at some distance from it and not directly involved with it. "This detachment practice is not dissociative but does give you some assistance in letting go of whatever happens to pass your way during Savasana," she says.
Let your body feel heavy. To truly relax, with every exhale, notice a different part of your body sinking into the floor, suggests Girard. "At a certain point, awareness of your body will soften as you completely relax and are able to let go of everything." This practice might take some time to master, so don't freak if it doesn't come naturally, she notes. If you're having a hard time, try visualizing your body being softly absorbed into the ground, she suggests. This gives your mind something to focus on so you can stay relaxed.
Breathe out for longer than you breathe in. There's actually a breathing trick that can help you zen out. Rather than making your breaths even in count (which helps with the meditative Savasana), count your exhalation to be twice as long as your inhalation. "When exhalation is longer than inhalation there is a natural down regulation in nervous system functioning and a deeply relaxed state," says English.
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