Yoga is for everyone!
Our society does not value doing nothing. There is no built-in time for rest allowed for us. When we have free time we seek to fill it up with activity. Many think that stress can be remedied by sleep, but one can sleep and wake up not rested. The best remedy for stress is rest, and Savasana can be a wonderful tool for that.
Savasana is a deliberate attempt to be still and it should be an important part of our lives, because it allows blood pressure to go down, blood sugar levels to go down, stress hormone levels to go down - all the effects of our stress-filled lives to be mitigated without medications and without a financial burden. It is free to relax! We need to think about how to create a space in our lives that can be filled with rest. Less commitments. Stress now is an expected part of our lives, and for the most part the stress we experience becomes constant and unrelenting, the "new normal".
Savasana, or the final relaxation at the end of the Yoga class is probably the most important and the least taught pose! I am certainly guilty of not allowing enough time at the end of class for relaxation, although I have been getting better about it. There needs to be at least 15-20 minutes for the relaxation response to happen.
Savasana has three stages. First is just simply resting, and the position needs to be where your head and heart are horizontal and on the same level. The space around you should be dark, quiet, and warm. You need to find a position that allows you to be completely still. It takes time to shut down the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response) so that parasympathetic system can become dominant. That takes usually about 15 minutes. When we reach the point of relaxation, however, we have two ways we can go - to sleep (and this is where many people doze off during Savasana), or deeper into contemplation of stillness and withdrawal of the senses, Pratyahara. Many people are so tired and sleep-deprived that they just doze off at this point, or the person may become anxious because he or she notices how agitated the mind is. The more exhausted we are the less we are able to relax sometimes. The anxiety you feel is not caused by Savasana, but by the overactive mind. If you practice relaxation regularly and consistently, you will be able to overcome this initial obstacle and go on to the second stage.
The second stage is only possible when you are deeply relaxed - the Pratyahara state. It means that the outside world no longer attracts our attention - the sounds and disturbances are registered by the mind, but the mind does not react to them and stays gazing inward. This is the time when healing really happens. Prana can be channeled into areas that need patching up: growth, repair, digestion, assimilation. It all happens during the parasympathetic response.
The third state comes sometimes when the ego dissolves temporarily and a kind of meditative state dawns, allowing the person to experience Nothing, Emptiness, Peace. I have felt it sometimes as if I left my body and traveled to another realm - a profoundly personal and transformational experience that is hard to describe in words. I hope you set aside 20 minutes a few times a week (or maybe even every day!) for rest and relaxation and find out for yourself what awaits you on the other side.
This entry has been inspired by Judith Hanson Lasater.