Savasana is your way to measure the effects of your yoga class. Do you feel light or heavy? Is your body open or tense? Is your mind wandering or calm? Do you feel rejuvenated or exhausted?
I used to take heated power vinyasa classes where I felt like I was collapsing into savasana. I would be so thankful when we finally made it because I wasn't sure that my body could move anymore. My breathing was labored and it took me a long while to settle into the pose, and when I did I just wanted to fall asleep. It wasn't until a certain teacher taught one of these classes that I fully understood how rejuvenating yoga could be. She taught a hot class, but empowered us to embrace ease, stillness and not doing postures that were too difficult for us in that moment. That class was the first savasana where I really got it. I felt light and awake and ready to take on the day. I felt relaxed, not relieved.
Yoga takes us to a place where we can work our asses off and still feel totally rejuvenated, because it allows us to embrace our breath, ease, balance, and where we are.
Here's how I ensure that I feel refreshed in my savasana, even in a really challenging class.
1. Move with your breath.
I know. I know. You probably hear this all the time, but yoga teachers say it because it is important. You don't want to feel out of breath in a yoga class. Your breath will certainly become faster as you hold, say, utkatasana or plank, but you don't want the breath to remain shallow for very long. A labored, heavy breath to keep up with the teacher isn't worth it. Keeping the breath expansive and steady keeps you light and focused. Sometimes you might even take a moment for another round of breath before you move forward. If you are not ready to take an exhale and move to extended angle, then wait until you are. Moving at your pace lets you move gracefully and helps ensure your breath doesn't get ahead of you. Try taking an extra round of breath before moving into a difficult posture in your next yoga class!
2. Embrace child's pose.
I teach a power vinyasa class and always encourage skipping at least one round of vinyasa or downward facing dog to take balasana (child's pose). It is nice to take a moment to check in with the body in a passive pose. When we do chataranga after chataranga we can get lazy and lose the integrity of the pose. Balasana gives you an opportunity to come back to your breath, check in, and make the next round better and more focused. Taking balasana in the middle of a hard class is also extremely empowering! We often look to arm balances to find that power, but even more can be found in taking stillness in the midst of activity. It is often a lot harder to stay still than it is to keep moving. If you are the type of person who goes for every pose every time and never takes break, try skipping just one thing and finding balasana. How does it make you feel?
3. Be constantly aware of where you can let go of tension.
Being constantly aware is not easy, but is a worthwhile effort. When you are fully aware in a posture it is easier to find balance. You are able to pinpoint the parts that require the most effort, and the parts that require the most ease. Tension has a funny way of moving around in the body. Often we let go of one muscle and another tenses up. It takes effort to grip and hold on! Take a moment in each posture to find one place where you can release. This could be anything from exhaling to relax to the shoulders, to letting go of thoughts that don't serve you, to imagining that you are releasing a contracted muscle. Next time you are in a posture that requires a lot of your focus, check in to see where you can find ease. For me, this usually means releasing the muscle in between the eyebrows!
4. Meet yourself where you are.
This is a big one. Even in yoga, we get competitive. Sometimes we see another person doing a pose and we will attempt it even if we aren't quite ready to do so. Sometimes we are competing with ourselves, pushing ourselves to try harder or do better at the expense of our bodies. Some poses we will never be able to do, and some days we won't be able to do poses we can usually do in our sleep. We have to remember that this is okay! We are perfectly imperfect beings. In every class you attend, remind yourself to be where you are in that moment. If you aren't sure that you are ready to try handstand, you don't have to. It will still be there when you are ready. If you are asked to do a pose you don't understand or aren't ready for, ask the teacher for a modification or come into a posture you feel better about. Taking a step back won't harm you. It will make your foundation stronger. Taking a step forward when you aren't ready can cause injury or leave you feeling over-extended. Trust that the place where you are is the place you should be.
Next time you are in savasana take note of how you feel. If you are totally exhausted, try incorporating some of these techniques into your class. Sometimes yoga classes will be challenging, but even in the midst of the toughest class you should feel vibrantly alive. The exhale is not a sigh of relief, but a release of tension.