The teacher integrates ancient philosophy with creative, modern sequencing, intelligent alignment, presence in guiding and assisting. You’re in love with your strong body, this experience, the breath flowing in and out. And then (insert dum-dum-dum disaster music here), the worst savasana (corpse pose) ever.
Many teachers consider savasana the most important posture. The most important. And boy, do I ever agree. In teacher trainings and workshops, we teachers spend dozens of hours discussing the importance of lifted arches, the psoas, cervical/thoracic/lumbar, shoulder placement, hands on assists, sequencing, philosophy, mythology and more. But, what about this “most important” posture?
Call me crazy, but I think we humans need more moments of permission, trust, compassion, stillness, peace, death-of-what’s-been…over say, an extra warrior pose or two. We must get out of the wheel of never-ending distraction (avidya) and experience “a small death every day” as Pattabhi Jois put it. Delivering this type of savasana is intentional on the part of the teacher.
When I began teaching yoga, I was struck by the sheer vulnerability of students in savasana. I couldn’t stop staring at them, just lying there, eyes closed with a perfect stranger (me) at the helm. It was a big lesson in the vital teaching ingredients of trust, nonverbal communication, and intuiting the needs of students.
Yoga teachers frequently call this “holding space,” but I often think that for newer teachers that particular phrase is just too vague. It’s time to get real about what to actually do when teaching savasana.
Whenever possible, allow seven or more minutes for savasana, depending on the length of your class. Remember: what students need most, and often don’t know how to ask for, is permission to deflate, relax, die and be reborn. They need you to say, without saying it – trust me, if you relax right now, if you stop doing, trying, persisting, you will still be good enough.
While you may be a fantastic, creative, highly demanded teacher, if you’re cutting savasana short to “give them” extra postures, and then have no time for savasana, who are you serving really? (Answer: yourself.)
If you’re planning to offer assists during this highly vulnerable time in class, alert your students in advance. This is compassion in action. As soon as you begin to lead students into savasana, say: Today I will offer hands-on assists during savasana. If you’d rather not receive one, wave to me now as a signal you’d like to be passed.
If you plan to give hands-on assists during savasana, step lightly and slowly. Your body language and the tone of your movements is vital information for your student. Use your body to send these messages – It’s ok to relax here. Rushing is not necessary. I am calm and I give you permission to feel the same.
If you are giving hands-on assists, don’t be uniform, be present. Look at your students and decide what assist is best, or if an assist is even necessary. Instead of assembly-line assists, be present as you place your hands in savasana just as you are present during the rest of your class.
Talking to your students through the entire savasana or asking them to relax every single body part as you slowly name them all is like giving them a to-do list in yoga class. Don’t we have enough of that off the mat already? While leading them into savasana with some guided relaxation or body/breath awareness, or a reading, is appropriate, choose to serve your students by giving them the gift of silence and peace for the majority of savasana.
If you choose to play music during savasana, (I often do!) try a 50/50 approach. Start with a soft, calm song, preferably with no words, and decrease the sound gradually (remember, abrupt is jarring) during savasana so that students hear calm music for half of savasana and silence for half.
Turn the lights down low. Ideally, you’d do this as soon as students become supine in your class so they’re not staring into lights overhead.
If someone decides to leave, resist the urge you might feel to judge. Sometimes, silence and space is simply too overwhelming, too vulnerable.
Know that someday a student will open his or her eyes and look at you. During savasana (during your entire class!) think to yourself: what messages are my body and breath sending right now? And even if your students don’t look at you, know that they can sense the messages you’re sending via your body language and breath. While students are lying with eyes closed, take a seat at the front of the room.
Sit calmly, spine long, hands relaxed. Breathe long and deep and stay fully present. Resist any urge to look at your phone, send a text, pick your nose or nails, or fidget too much with your clothes. Using your body and breath, send the message that it’s ok to relax and be still.
Know what you will say to lead your students out of savasana so that you don’t stumble over your words during this time, causing students to over-think the meaning of what you say. Lead students to a seat in whatever way feels most authentic to your personality and teaching style. And, when your students come to a seat, it’s a perfect time to reconnect to your theme, a reading, or allow a brief meditation.
Remember, savasana is corpse pose, not just the punctuation at the end of your yoga class. We are reborn each time. If you imagine each student as experiencing a rebirth process in savasana, truly awakening bit by bit to their higher selves with each savasana, you can better facilitate a space that’s divine, personal, necessary, sacred.