My yoga mat has been my place of refuge, my place of contemplation, my place of self-discovery. My mirror for the good, the bad and the ugly. Time and time again I step into the unknown, only to find that everything I need, everything I am wondering about, lies on my yoga mat.
I look back at myself five, even ten years ago, and find that I am still the same person. Even memories as a child are laced into who I am today. But the difference is that how I see the world, how I see myself, and how I chose to live – is drastically different.
For some yoga is a savior for their physical bodies: to be saved from inflexibility, headaches, cramped feet, or to regain the body they have been long searching for. But for me, my yoga practice has taught me how to actually be able to look at my body and befriend it. I can look at my life and no longer see myself as the victim. Rather, I see myself as the person at the wheel, in control.
I tear up thinking about what I have been through and what I have put myself through. Only to come out bright-eyed and ready to move on with no regrets. And I never thought I’d say that. The tears that come are only tears of joy and amazement that my mat brought this to me.
Our Yoga Practice is a Promise to Ourselves That we Want More and Deserve More.
Yoga is so powerful and unique in that it is an experience and a practice. If you are not ready to step onto the mat, then the change will not happen. I have not only seen this in myself, but also my students over the last decade of teaching.
To me, Yoga is the most real that someone can get with themselves. The lies will eventually rise to the surface, the false hopes will eventually go sour and the work will time and time again be put back in our court. What I’m trying to say is that life becomes a lot sweeter when we start to trust that the universe and our Creator has our best interest at heart. That we might not know it all, and that no matter how “good, smart, elite, or savvy” we think we are, there must still be a humbleness to remind us that there is always something to learn.
Interestingly, My Journey was the Opposite.
For much of my life, I felt lesser. I felt that I was the one always lacking, or missing the bar. For me, my yoga mat became a constant reminder that I am great today, just as I am… even during my stages of recovery. I began to stop seeing myself as “messing up” day after day. Now I am thanking life and God for the opportunity to be aware of what I need to learn and how I can change.
I post a Facebook quote of the day, a Daily Dose of Hope. It is usually something from my heart. I had posted a few months ago a quote stating:
You know you are ready for change when you come to realize that what you see in other people and don’t like is a mirror for what you need to see in yourself and begin to change.”
For me, this simple thought was such an eye-opener. This awareness not only helped me to grow and realize what I needed to change in myself, but to also realize what I didn’t and did want to take into my life. Without awareness, you will never grow. There will never be change, and that box you feel stuck in… It will still be that box and you will still be in it.
Stepping out Means Taking a Chance.
It means trusting without immediate proof. Sometimes you have to go with your gut, trusting that you are being guided. Trust that what you are doing is right. If you don’t like your life, where you are, or what you are doing – ask yourself…
What am I doing to move beyond this?
What am I doing to make a change?
Are you tired in the morning? Well then stop going to bed at 12am. Sick of all the mess? Well then go clean it up. Who are we all waiting for? What formula do I not know about that fixes all problems, all people, all situations? The only formula I know is the one where I start to take care of me, work on me, and change me. Because that is the only way I know to get to where I want to be.
If you pray and ask for guidance, once you get the guidance it’s your job to take it and act on it. When you meditate for peace, it’s your job to work to keep the peace. If you ask for help and suggestions to regain your health, well then you have to follow through to see the results.
So how does this all tie back to a yoga practice? On our yoga mat we see ourselves as we truly are, raw and willing to do the work necessary to move forward or make change. Even if we are not ready, at least now we are aware and it becomes our choice what to do with that awareness.
The sweetness in me bows to the sweetness in you…
This post was originally written for MindBodyGreen, and updated on Oct 7, 2019.
Savasana, the final pose of yoga is the most important. Are you missing the boat? Or should I say relaxation?
I have had the honor of coming to the yoga mat for almost 20 years, and 17 of which I have been guiding others from their first pose to relaxation.
And it has most definitely happened on more than one occasion that students skip out on Savasana. Some are very clear that they need to leave to get their kid from school or to hit a deadline and I am happy that they at least made time.
But there have been a few occasions where the student could not handle such a pose and as a result, left. But acted as though they were late for something, or continued to roll around and strike a pose at the back of the room while the rest of the yoga class soaked up some Zzzz yoga style.
Well, I should probably explain to my non-yoga readers that Savasana is a fancy Sanskrit word for relaxation or corpse pose. Which I would say is both the easiest pose of class and at the same time the most difficult.
You will often hear me encourage my students minutes prior to Savasana that this pose, relaxation is the final pose of yoga. It is what we prepare for the entire 60, 75, or 90 minutes. Post that, is meditation.
Yoga itself is a bit of a challenge in that it confronts our insecurities, our weaknesses, our strengths, our anxieties. And if we are not attentive to it, we simply ignore them and find ways to work around such challenges in-order to say safe and say comfortable.
But yoga is “comfortably uncomfortable” as I like to say mid-way through a pose that to my students appears to never end. And how we treat the yoga poses. How we act and react on the mat is a complete mirror for our everyday life.
In my experience, many of my type-A students often gravitate initially to the faster-paced yoga classes. The ones that on the surface, in the description appear more difficult.
While their counterparts often gravitate towards the slower styles, and classes where moving and grooving isn’t in the glamorous description.
It could very well be a torture chamber to request my type-A students to attend a Yin style yoga or slow style yoga with a ten-minute relaxation. By minute 60 there might not be anyone left in the room.
But here’s the thing. We all need to chill out. Not fake chill out. Not relax with our phone scrolling Facebook aimlessly. Not huffing and puffing trying to keep up with a flow that does not exactly scream soothing and calming, and then skipping out on the relaxation part because it seems “pointless”.
I was that person. Anxious, busy, rigid. And laying around made me fidgety beyond normal comparison.
But for some odd reason, I stuck with yoga. I began to learn that my anxious state on the mat was a complete mirror for how I was behaving off the mat.
My restlessness, my need to keep moving and “not feel” was the same way I was approaching life. The need to push, stress, and basically kill myself in class to call it a success were the exact unrealistic standards I was holding myself to in my life.
And relaxation. Don’t even get me started. I had more anxiety about it than my students at times. And watching them lay quietly I was the one restless, anxious about whether or not they were anxious, bored, and disliking the moment they were in.
But I learned. I learned along with my students about the importance of this pose as well as a deeper insight into my yoga style choices per my current personality and life challenges.
Savasana should offer you, your body, and your mind an opportunity to fully unwind. To experience a complete surrender of the physical body. See the class was meant to exhaust you. Not like too hard to keep up exhaust you. But challenge you in every way, shape, and form.
Keep your mind focused. Challenged. Nurtured.
Keep your body working, opening, reaching, strengthening, trying both new and familiar things to help you step outside your comfort zone.
Long story short, for many they struggle with allowing their bodies and minds the opportunity to reset the central nervous system. That of which Savasana can and does play a huge part in.
I (tried) to run track in high school and one thing the coach always said was “do not forget to do your cool down, do not just stop after you cross the finish line, keep walking”.
Why? Because that abrupt stop is stressful and confusing for the body.
Leaving prior to Savasana. Or not allowing yourself to fully reap the benefits of it is like giving a kid a sucker and just before the tootsie center, taking it away. How rude!
So why Savasana your way to bliss after your yoga session?
- It removes fatigue
- Calms the central nervous system
- Brings clarity to the mind
- Brings emotional balance
- Promotes deep healing
- Cultivates an energetic connection
- Restores and resets the physical body post-movement
- Offers self-reflection
- Lowers the heart rate
- Lowers the body temperature
- Replenishes vital energy in the body
- It is a mini-vacation or relaxation
- This is the pose that connects your entire practice together
The most precious thing in the world which is missing these days is relaxation Yogi Bhajan
Preparing for a Proper Savasana
Take advantage of having a captive audience for 45+ minutes prior to relaxation and prepare your students for what is going to eventually happen. Encourage them of the benefits. To work hard, or breathe now so they can fully benefit later.
I often equate relaxation to sleep. “Skip it too many times and you’re dying at work or dragging trying to keep up your normal groove. Why is it we skimp on the most important aspects of life? Of yoga?”
Spend 1-5 minutes of floor work preparing the body for relaxation. Sitting or supine poses, movements or even breathing exercises to help them wind down.
Offer them a focus or intention. Or even guide them through a short relaxation for the body to soften even more. But it will also aid the mind in wandering and causing frustration.
How Long Should Relaxation Be?
It is a vast debate as to how long relaxation should be. And depending on the style you are teaching or practicing. The teacher, even the location (gym VS yoga studio) the length of time will and can drastically vary. And it is in my experience that at least 10% of the class’s total time could be considered dedicated to relaxation.
- 60 minute yoga session = 6 minute Savasana
- 75 minute yoga session = 7-8 minute
- 90 minute yoga session = 9 minute
Now that might not work for your current demographic and in some cases, it has been my experience that as the teacher you may need to work them up to such a time block.
Customize Your Savasana:
Hopefully, you have already ensured there is enough room for each yoga mat, and the person attached to it in class.
And if it is a yoga class you are relaxing to, then chances are the mood and energy is already set up for such a pose. But if you are considering adding in a little Savasana to another style class or practice then here are a few tips to enhance the experience even more.
Tips to help everyone present relax a little more.
- Invite the class to stay for relaxation.
- Let them know exactly how long it will be.
- Ensure them this will not take away from what comes next in life, but enhance it.
- Dim the lights or turn them off.
- Cue students as to where their body parts should go.
- Decide the room set up: legs up the wall, students on belly, back, side, support, etc.
- Invite students to check in with their breath
- Reassure students that the mind wandering is normal and the power is in the practice of continuing to come back to the stillness on the mat.
- Speak in a language that students can understand. Meet them where they are and guide them by hand as to where you want them to go.
Yoga can be a perfect package. It is important to remember that it has to potential to lead the mind, restore the body, and open the soul. And in my experience, I have learned that when you remove a piece of the pie for no other reason than it makes you uncomfortable. Or you don’t like it, the pie just won’t taste right. The benefits may not be at their fullest potential.
So I want to encourage you that if someone offers you time to just be, to relax and lay like a corpse. Do it.
And the clarity, rejuvenation, and sense of restoration you will receive thereafter is truly what you will bring home to your family and loved ones.
Yoga is it what we think?
Yoga begins in the present moment.
But what really is yoga? Many associate yoga with asana, the practice of physical postures; what many yogis know as the third limb of yoga (of the 8-limb path). But to be clear, yoga is so much more than that.
Absolutely, asana is a pathway, but what does it then lead to?
The first word in the yoga sutra is- atha, which literally means “now”. My initial understanding of yoga was the typical rendition of yoga, meaning to “unite” or “yoke”, but as Michael Stone puts it “this turns yoga into something one does, a form of willful activity”.
I have both practiced and studied yoga for almost fifteen years now, but to be honest, have only really truly understood the actual meaning of yoga and have worked to apply it to my life in the last few.
Taking this new approach to yoga has allowed both me as a yoga practitioner and as a person simply moving through this thing we call life to find more value in what yoga is trying to teach me (us).
When I think of these two drastically different meanings of yoga, it becomes apparent to me that initially, one may make more sense than the other. That one may be easier to digest, and in return, welcome more people into the arms of yoga; eventually leading those dedicated enough to the true understanding of what yoga is.
The full first yoga sutra reads “Atha yoganusasnam” which translates as “in the present moment is the teachings of yoga”.
So before we even get to asana, we are already told of the present moment…the now.
And it is in this present moment, in this balance between birth and death, darkness and light, the inhale and exhale, it is here, that we feel the completeness of what is: the silence that precedes all things.
In my life, I have come to the mat thousands of times already and although many come to the mat to receive the many benefits of yoga asana; could it be that the true goal of the action of yoga asana- is to step into the stillness that is the moment, not the asana itself? The place we meet our breath, we meet our body, we meet the asana or even another, on this pathway we call life, that we see it as complete.
So then, is it through yoga asana (or any of the other 7 limbs) that we strip away the layers of distraction, dissolution, and ignorance and fully accept and receive the present moment, the now, the silence.
I think about my experiences on the mat itself and after many years of practice, although I love the asanas, I love more where the asanas take me. As a teacher, it has become difficult at times to adhere to the requests students have to push hard, go deep and move beyond what I know and can sense they truly need at this time. But in a culture still blinded by the action of: doing equals success, truly teaching the meaning of yoga proves to be difficult.
The discomfort that arises with being still, breathing, and only focusing on that one breath. Asking your students to slow down and be in their bodies, rather than outside themselves, does soon pass. And it is the practice of asana that can peel away the layers of that discomfort, that distraction, so that you the practitioner can fully arrive in the moment, in the now, in the stillness and silence, so that we can truly understand that “yoga beings now”.
So it may be safe to say that asana is a practice of yoga, but is not yoga. And that through the mat we are given a more clear path, with instructions (hopefully) to guide us to what we now know yoga is…the experience of the moment we work to create on the mat, and the off the mat every single day.
To all the places your yoga practice may lead you, may it in the end, guide you to the one place that is always real, true and pure, the place that is not dependent on which pose you do when, or how long you can balance, or whether your practice is beginner or advanced. In the end, may what we call yoga always guide you into a full completeness and realization of the union of life.
From my heart to yours, from my soul to yours,
References: The Inner Traditions of Yoga by Michael Stone, 2008