The gift of relaxation
Question. Can you remember the last time you felt really relaxed? How exactly did that feel?
Many of us have forgotten what it feels to be truly relaxed or perhaps we have never learnt HOW TO relax.
One of the most valuable lessons that Yoga has taught me is to take time out EVERY SINGLE DAY to lie in the relaxation pose, aka Savasana and listen to my body. We spend most of our day in our heads, with what seems like a million different thoughts whirling round and round. Constantly. And we only really think about the body when we’re looking at ways to improve it or when it is unwell and we need to get it better.
And because we spend all our time in our head, we miss so many of our body’s vital signals and signs. Or we just ignore them. Listen.
Your Body is Intelligent
A simple example. It’s 10pm. You’re sitting on the sofa. You can feel your body getting tired, you’re yawning and your eyes are beginning to close. We’ve all been there a million times. BUT there’s a ﬁlm on that you want to watch. So you stay up until after midnight and end up feeling exhausted the next day. Or you’re out having a meal and drinking with friends. You know after a couple of glasses of wine that you’ve had enough. Any more and you are going to regret it in the morning. But you still have another. Or two. Your hangover the next day comes as no surprise. Over time, ignoring the body’s intelligence begins to undermine our health and well-being. We lose our glow and begin to notice increasing fatigue, headaches, constipation, a myriad of aches and pains.
Thankfully, the body is resilient and we CAN get our glow back. We just need to slow down a little and start to listen to and respect its cues. And learn how to breathe. A superb way to begin to do this is with Savasana or the relaxation pose, one of the most beneﬁcial poses in the Yoga repertoire. Not only does Savasana connect us to, and improve, our breathing, research has shown that it improves our immune function, restores our vitality, helps us sleep better and gives us that allimportant time out to get our glow back.
H. David Coulter, writing in Anatomy of Hatha Yoga, a seminal guide for all serious students of Yoga, explains: "If you are an expert in relaxation, within a minute or two (of practising Savasana) the number of nerve impulses to the muscles of your hands and toes goes to zero. Then, within ﬁve minutes, the motor neuronal input to the muscles of your forearms, arms, legs and thighs diminishes and also approaches zero. The rhythmical movement of the respiratory diaphragm lulls you into even deeper relaxation, ﬁnally minimising the nerve impulses to the deep postural muscles of the torso. The connective tissues are not restraining you. Pain is not registered from any part of the body - the posture is entirely comfortable. This is an ideal relaxation."
Savasana - How To
Find a comfortable and warm space where you will be undisturbed. Switch off your phone and lie down, on a Yoga mat if you have one or, if not, on a thick towel or blanket. Stretch out and adjust your legs so that they are comfortably wide apart. Allow your little toes to ﬂop out to the sides. (If you have a back issue, you may be more comfortable with the knees bent and the feet on the ﬂoor). Feel the hips gently ease open. Now extend your arms out to the sides a little away from your body and turn over your palms so that your palms are facing the ceiling. Adjust your chin so that the neck feels very comfortable. Gently close the eyes. Relax the face, the chin and the jaw and soften that little space between your eyebrows. Invite your body to be very still and peaceful.
Now begin to ﬁnd your breath. Start by becoming aware of the breath in the nostrils. The incoming breath and the outﬂowing breath. Notice that the air is cool as it comes into the body and a little warmer as it leaves the body. Become aware of the length of your breath. The texture of your breath. Even the soft sound of your breath. Stay with this for a few moments. Next take your awareness to the breath in the abdomen. Observe how the abdomen gently rises and falls with the breath. Observe the abdomen rising on the in-breath and falling on the out-breath. When the mind begins to move away from the breath, guide it gently back. Know that with this simple practice, you are allowing your mind to rest. Research has shown that this mindful breathing helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. Think of it as giving your mind a little time out.
And now, using your creativity, imagine that you are lying on a beautiful soft, velvet cushion and each time you breath out, feel your body sinking a little deeper into that cushion. Feel that each out-breath softens your body and lets you sink deeper and deeper into that soft, velvet cushion. Â Rest with this awareness for a little while.
Very slowly allow this visualisation to ﬂoat gently away. Bring the awareness back to your physical body. Become aware of your breathing once more the breath in the abdomen and the breath in the nostrils. Then become aware of your physical body lying peacefully in Savasana. Begin to notice all the little sounds around you. Move your body. Have a long stretch and a yawn to energise you for the rest of the day. Roll on to one side and, in your own time, come to an upright position.
Savasana vs. Sleep
And ﬁnally. Why do Savasana? Why not simply sleep? I shall hand over the last words to another esteemed Yoga authority: "What is the difference between sleep and relaxation? Normally we go to sleep without quietening the mind. The inﬂux of blood, tensions and congestion remains unsettled in our being. In normal sleep, our day-to-day irregularities remain unsettled and unadjusted. Savasana is really attained when our tensions are eased, blood circulation calmed down and other congestions rendered clear by this scientiﬁc method. Savasana brings good quality sleep. One who practises savasana does not feel sleeplessness at all." Â Swami Satyananda Saraswati.