She pulled up her mat, plopped her blocks away and banged the front door as she left. That same week, as I was teaching, a student left early, but before she did, she took the mat spray and sprayed it all over her mat, misting the student next to her, who was resting.
I understand. Our time is short and we’re trying to fit a yoga class into a packed day. I also recognize that these two examples may be outside the regular parameters of what you experience as a teacher or practitioner. In either case though, it begs the question: why stay for savasana (corpse pose) anyway?
Besides the obvious reason, “Hey, I’m tired over here!” there are lots of other good reasons to stay and some times you definitely should not leave early:
Try not to leave class during the backbending series: If the sequence you’re doing has an obvious “arc,” meaning the sequence builds to a high point, be it Wheel Pose or another backbend, this would be the wrong time to leave. Energetically, it’s the peak pose and to leave mid-peak can be a bit jarring to the body. Also, it’s helpful to take some counter poses after the peak pose so your system has time to come back to a more neutral state.
Think about how the five minutes at the end might improve your day: When compared to the benefit you may get from leaving class a few minutes early. Staying for that resting segment could mean the difference between feeling frazzled and leaving feeling relaxed.
If you must leave early, let the teacher know before class starts: Place you mat by the exit door so your departure does not disturb others.
Here are six good reasons to stay for savasana:
Bring your physical body back to baseline: Working through a yoga practice, even a restorative one, takes the body through a process of stretching, strengthening and relaxing. The rest at the end of class is meant to bring heart rate, blood pressure, muscular tension and body temperature back to a more normal level.
Restore the nervous system back to baseline: Just as our physical body needs to come back to baseline, so does our nervous system. With any exercise, endorphins and other hormones are released. These contribute to the feeling of euphoria you may get from yoga class or a good run, for instance. Taking time to rest gives these hormones a chance to return to more normal levels.
Allows the body to integrate what you have done during practice: Just as sleeping helps your brain consolidate the effects of what you’ve done while awake by converting memory into more permanent form, resting at the end of class is a great way to absorb and integrate the benefits of your practice into your muscle memory, mind and nervous system.
Allows the mind to rest or gives us perspective on the things that keep running through our mind: Resting at the end of yoga practice is active rest, meaning, you’re not asleep but you’re resting after exertion. This active rest, similar to meditation, gives the mind a chance to relax as well. While this resting state may be achieved by many, it may be elusive for some. I’ve seen people with their eyes open, as if they’re just waiting to jump up and out of the room. Even in these cases, shavasana is a chance for us to observe the movements of our mind, which hopefully brings much needed perspective.
Gives us a chance to do nothing. We’re part of an overworked, under-exercised, stressed, over-stimulated culture. Taking time to do nothing is a gift to our bodies and our minds. Just being away from our smart phones for an hour is hugely beneficial to our whole being.
An opportunity to visualize, dream and meditate: It’s so important that we take time to visualize the things we hope for in our lives. Resting can be a chance for us to visualize ourselves in a more healthy lifestyle or we might see ourselves crossing the finish line of a race we’re training for or a goal we’ve set for ourselves.
One of my private clients has realizations all the time during rest that help him with an approach to a business problem. You can also connect to feelings of gratitude, peace and forgiveness towards yourself or others or send out thoughts of healing to those who need it.
The practice of yoga is more than a physical one; it’s the union of body, mind and spirit through both physical movements, deep breathing and meditation. By participating in the whole practice, we give our whole being a chance to benefit from this wonderful practice.