Tag Archives: yoga postures

Finding Ease in Savasana: Prop It Up!

At the end of every yoga class, we lie down in Savasana- yoga’s “corpse pose.” In this final pose, we practice letting go and letting be.  Trusting that we’ve done enough, we release any sense of effort and give ourselves over to rest. Neurologically, this is a chance for our nervous system to absorb and digest all of the new information we received throughout the practice.

Ideally, if the class is sequenced well, your body and mind are primed for rest, and this is a nurturing and relaxing experience. Many students really, really love this pose (we used to sell shirts at YogaFish that read, “I’m Just Here for the Savasana!”). Others (often, especially, newer students) find it challenging and would rather get up and leave than partake in mandatory adult nap time.

In order for the mind to really be able to rest, it’s helpful to make the body as comfortable as possible. If lying on the floor on a rubber mat isn’t your idea of a luxurious getaway, I’ve got some simple Savasana alternatives for you to explore that might help your body to feel more at ease. Most of these are pretty simple and will just require you grabbing an extra prop or two before practice.

Stonehenge SavasanaStonehenge is a favorite with several of my students. By placing a bolster on top of two blocks, you’re allowing your lower back to nestle into the floor more cozily. I find that sitting closer to the blocks (creating deeper hip flexion; that is, bringing knees closer to the face) feels better on my low back, but you are welcome to explore. Adding a blanket over the feet or the whole body can create a sense of comfort as well. 

 

 

Double Bolster SavasanaDouble Bolster Savasana is for the yogi that likes a bolster under the knees and wants to really snuggle in! Here the legs aren’t as high as in Stonehenge, but the second bolster under the calves and ankles provides a deep sense of fundamental support, signaling the primal brain that it’s okay to relax. A blanket or pillow under the head or neck is always great if you find that your head is tipped back; you want to feel that your forehead is the same distance from the ground as your chin.

A nice addition to this pose would be a folded blanket or sandbag over the hips. Adding a pleasant amount of weight here can feel good physically and creates a psychological sense of security.

 

Legs up the wall SavasanaLegs Up the Wall Savasana can be a real breath of fresh air if you want to take some weight off your legs. Here, Carol Dee has added a sandbag over the feet (your teacher can place this here for you).

If you’re adding a bolster or folded blanket under the hips here, try placing it about 6 inches away from the wall (setting a block between the bolster and the wall will keep it from moving and help you space it). This creates a mild inversion, which some folks really appreciate.

 

La-Z-Boy SavasanaLa-Z-Boy Recliner Savasana takes a little set-up, but may be well worth the effort! This is a favorite with prenatal students. It’s a great option for students who have difficulty lying flat on the ground. The chest is mildly elevated, but the spine remains fairly neutral.

The basic pose is simply two blocks (one on the high setting, furthest from the head; one on the medium setting, closer to the base of the spine) under a bolster. Here, Carol Dee has wound a rolled blanket around her ankles to gently hold them in place. I would love to add a folded blanket under each arm so that her elbows can relax more comfortably; an eye pillow would be the icing on the cake!

These are just a few options– why not have a little fun with it? Try out a different variation the next time you unroll your mat (psst–if you’re practicing at home, bed or couch pillows make great bolsters)!  In all of these variations, the common denominator is really giving the body as much support and comfort as possible. As you lie down, ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to make my body feel a little bit more supported?” If there’s an ache or a twinge you can’t quite figure out, please ask! Your teacher may be able to offer a suggestion that can allow you to rest more easily. Notice whether or not adding support to your body with a bolster, block, or even just a blanket over the body lends a little more serenity to your mind in Savasana.

Finally, please remember that Savasana, like any other yoga asana, is really an expression of your body and mind’s needs in that given moment. If for any reason you are unable to feel comfortable lying down or even closing your eyes, it is completely reasonable for you to sit quietly on your mat (perhaps in meditation) or to prop yourself against a wall.

In our next blog, I’ll include some techniques to encourage the mind to relax in Savasana. In the meantime, let’s hear from you! What are your favorite Savasana strategies? Are you a minimalist or do you bring your own eye pillows and lavender mist?

 

 

 

 

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Beginner’s Guide to Downward Facing Dog

Adho Mukha Svanasana Bliss!

I am a Down Dog zealot. I love its strengthening, stretching, renewing benefits. Sometimes I may be guilty of overdoing the posture, I’m told. A few months ago I asked a good friend if she thought my classes had too many down dogs. “Sometimes,” she responded. I love my honest friends!

So, I’ve been trying to sprinkle Adho Mukha Svanasana judiciously throughout my classes. I even managed to teach a 90 minute class without one single Down Dog- that was hard. But I truly believe that this posture is an important foundation for a well-rounded Vinyasa practice. It’s a terrific way to build the upper-body strength that will lead you into arm balances and all kinds of other fun postures (keeping in mind that your fun and my fun may not be the same thing). It’s also an inversion, with the hips higher than the head, increasing blood flow to the brain, which is pretty awesome (more on that another time)- and for those of us who work at a computer, or drive a lot, or don’t have terrific posture, it may be a therapeutic stretch for the shoulders. Finally, it is a streeeeeetch for the hamstrings, calves, and Achilles tendons.

So you’d like to experience the benefits for yourself? Grab a mat and let’s go!

Begin on hands and knees, with your hips stacked over your knees. Bring your hands to the earth under your shoulders or a bit in front of them. Make sure they are shoulder-width apart. Your first finger or middle finger will generally be pointing directly forward, and your wrist crease will probably be parallel to the front edge of the mat. Please note: your mileage will vary here, as we are all built differently- experimentation may be helpful.  Once you’ve established your placement, firm your grip: beginning with the thumb-side of your hand, carefully roll the entire palm of your hand onto the floor.

Now, curl your toes under, and begin to straighten the legs. If your hamstring muscles are tight, you may need to keep your knees bent- this is perfectly fine. Press your heels back toward the mat- if they do touch down, you might consider walking them back a few inches to increase the stretch (making a “longer dog”). Give yourself enough room to feel a stretch through the backs of your legs, and keep reaching your heels back and down. Have your feet hip width apart- that’s about two fists’ distance.

Now, begin to refine the posture. Begin by pressing the floor away with your fingers, and feel how that pushes the weight into your back body. If the sensations become too intense through your hamstrings or any other muscle, pause and breathe there- your body will open in time.  Once you’re fairly comfortable, lift and spread the sitting bones. Imagine that you could widen the sitting bones apart from each other- you may find this easier to feel if you widen your heels just ever-so-slightly apart from each other, so that the big toes are a tiny bit closer together than your heels. The outside edges of your feet will probably be parallel with the mat. Send your hips up to the heavens, and feel a slight forward tilt of your pelvis- almost as though you were sticking your tush out. You may have to bend your knees to make this happen- that’s great, go for it.

Keep reaching back with the heels, pressing the thighbones into the backs of your thighs, and bring your attention to your upper body. Keep pressing the palms into the earth, and slightly exaggerate the press of the inner palms (thumb-sides) of the hands. There is sometimes a tendency to roll onto the outside edges, which can be painful over time. Imagine that you could press down through the space between your thumb and first finger.

Now, we want to work into an external rotation of the shoulders. Keep your hands where they are, on the floor, but imagine how it would feel if you were to turn your palms up in offering. Feel how your elbows would come in toward each other, the shoulder blades slipping away from each other. Begin to engage those motions now, in your down dog. Squeeze the elbows inward, and roll the inner edge of your armpit up and out. If this all feels very confusing, come out of down dog, sit down, and turn your palms up a few times to get a sense for the muscular actions.  You will know you are “getting” this key action of externally rotating the shoulders in down dog when you bend your elbows and they point toward the back of your mat, rather than out to the sides. Don’t forget to keep pressing the palms down and the hips back!

Finally, the drishti (Sanskrit for “what you should be looking at”). You may have heard that your gaze should be toward your navel. This may be true for you at some point. To start, however, think instead about making your neck an extension of your spine. Let your head hang naturally away from your neck and soften your face. Keep your shoulders pulling back away from your ears. You might enjoy playing with the action of clawing the finger pads into the mat and then feeling how that pulls the shoulder blades back and down. Breathe smoothly and deeply.

These are tricky refinements, which means you will be working pretty hard in your downward facing dog as your practice develops. It’s tempting to just hang out in the posture, internally rotating the shoulders (elbows bending out to the sides). This may be easier, but it risks potential injury and keeps you from experiencing the strengthening benefits of the posture.

One common experience in downward facing dog, especially for beginners, may be pain in the wrists or hands. This may happen especially if you are carrying a lot of body weight above the waist, or if you are stiff through the back of your legs and cannot yet make the transition to shift your weight back into the heels. If this is the case for you, it may be helpful to place a triangular wedge under your hands to ease the angle. Some practitioners benefit greatly from elongating their arms by placing two blocks directly under the hands. This helps to shift the weight backward so that the shoulder girdle can strengthen as the back body lengthens and opens.

It’s also important to remember that this can be a very intense posture if you are new to the practice. Give yourself permission to rest, taking child’s pose, hands-and-knees, or even  bringing the forearms to the floor if the strain is becoming too great. It can take time to build the strength and the flexibility needed to hold this posture for long periods of time. Until then, be compassionate and patient, and take my word for it: there’s a lot to love in Downward Facing Dog.

Looking for more on this posture? Check out this cool post on Body Positive Yoga:  Downward facing dog: A guide for plus size yogis & beginners, or this article by Gwen Lawrence (she teaches yoga to NFL stars, so she knows a thing or two!).