I ended my last post in this series on savasana with this:
Regardless of what happens in savasana - you sleep, you cry, you think your head off - doing it with awareness and the intention to practice conscious relaxation is the most important part.
Practice being the key word.
Practice (verb), repeat action to improve: hone, study, discipline, habituate, iterate, polish, do again, become...
The benefits of savasana are more pronounced when you commit to it, and do it with dedication...making it a practice, not just a mechanical pose you do. Like any pose, if it is practiced you will learn more about it. Think about the first time you did downward dog, or think about the intricacies it would take to learn headstand. The care and attention taken for any yoga pose, must be present for every yoga pose. Savasana should be given the same attention.
Perhaps one of the biggest disservices we yoga teachers do to savasana is doing it without much instruction or guidance about how to BE in the pose. Often, savasana is done as a short pose at the end of a class, where it feels like an afterthought, or cool down period at the end of a workout. Even worse, some classes skip it entirely. And yet, savasana is the one pose that highlights and embodies the true heart and purpose of yoga, and therefore, arguably the most important pose.
Scholastic knowledge about the pose isn't enough - it needs to be experienced. Experienced repeatedly, under many conditions, in many frames-of-mind and body and with an air of discipline. This practice will change your experience, until it becomes more than just another pose, and develops into a way of being.
What is there to practice?
Practice being still: In savasana the body is passive and still. Ensuring the body is comfortable, balanced, and stable is a good starting point. Then, notice any fidgeting and distractions that arise in the body. Practice managing these with awareness and focus, eventually the body will be silenced (effortless stillness that expands into the mind). From there,
Practice turning the senses inward: This is the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga - pratyahara - the inward turning of the senses. Our senses are constantly stimulated. In savasana you practice softening the senses, so you are less distracted by your external environtment and more focused internally. For example, practice: closing your eyes by relaxing your eyelids over the eyeballs, keeping the ears quiet and receptive but not blocked, relaxing the jaw and resting the tongue as though you were sleeping, and relaxing the muscles and pores of the skin so the nerves held within are at rest. Soft senses mean less outer stimulation.
Practice focusing the mind: The element that makes savasana savasana and not just lying there, or sleeping, is the focus of the mind and alertness of the intellect. This takes HUGE amounts of practice because it's very normal and common for the mind to waver, race and think. In savasana, you practice focusing and concentrating the mind, learning how to bring stillness and silence to it. You are practicing cognitive awareness and flexibility.
Practice Emotional flexibility: It's common for emotion to arise in savasana. On your yoga mat is a relatively safe place to practice emotional awareness and release (instead of a room full of people at work, let's say), thereby developing emotional flexibility and resilience. Practicing on the mat, prepares you for practice off the mat, in real life when the going-gets-tough.
Practice not daydreaming or sleeping: Practice not sleeping or mentally checking out. Savasana involves engagement of the mind through focused attention and alertness. At first, daydreaming, mentally checking out, and sleeping can happen quickly. With repeated practice of maintaining alert attention, while relaxing the body, sleep will happen less frequently. Coincidentally though, the more you practice savasana, and the more your relaxation response becomes used to being activated, actual sleep at bedtime may improve.
"It is necessary to describe in great detail the technique for practicing savasana. However, a beginner need not be discouraged about mastering the details. When first learning to drive a car, he gets confused. Yet with help from an instructor he gradually learns to master the intricacies until they all become instinctive. It is the same with savasana, except that the working of the human body is more intricate than that of any car." - B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Pranayama, page 234
Savasana may be uncomfortable at first. That is a good thing. Being taken out of your comfort zone when you have the time and space to dedicate to the moment is the best way to practice. Over time, you may become more aware of thought patterns, (eg. I'm stinking' thinking again...) or you may become more aware of how you embody emotion - your "tells" or signs of when you've reached an emotional limit, and you'll be able to slide into conscious relaxation more easily. With practice, these skills strengthen, are more easily accessible, and you can begin to use the skills in a wider variety of areas.
And to clarify - the goal of practicing savasana isn't to become "good at" it. The process of practicing prepares you to cultivate a sense of conscious relaxation, inner awareness, and alertness during difficult times and challenging states of mind/emotion. What you practice on the mat, is a tool for riding the waves off the mat.
You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf. - Jon Kabat-Zinn
If you need help learning how to drive your savasana car, consider my online program options...
My online yoga programs are an excellent way to experience and practice savasana. At the end of each video in the8-week online program, there is a long savasana with instruction about focusing the mind and dealing with emotion, followed by a period of silence. In fact, I start the classes with savasana as well...and often do it in between poses too.
The Mindful Relaxation guided audio practice, can be a helpful way to practice focusing the mind.
If you need some guidance and gentle, compassionate support in your own time and space, check them out.