Breathing With A Side Of Savasana
I'm a big believer in a long Savasana, that final relaxation pose at the end of most yoga classes. I feel it's a crucial part of a yoga practice, and rushing it would be a disservice to my students.
In the days prior to COVID-19, I would have my students rest and replenish in a Savasana that was 8 to 10 minutes long. But now that I'm teaching online, I've decided to take a different approach.
I've found that folks can be easily distracted while laying still in their at-home Savasana. Without music, with pets needing attention and household noises invading the calm, keeping the Zen can be a bit of a challenge.
To help everyone stay present, while still cultivating inner peace, I've added in guided breathing techniques to the mix.
Think of the breathwork as the main course and Savasana the dessert.
As simple as it sounds, this slight modification is having a huge impact on my students' parasympathetic nervous systems, which control the rest and restore responses. By pausing and intentionally breathing for a while prior to Savasana, the body's stress level diminishes, anxiety dissipates, and digestion ramps up. Just what we need right now, more than ever.
Ready to give it a try?
To begin, sit comfortably, if you're not already doing so. If you're in a chair, let the back of your body come away from the back of the chair, feet hip-distance apart and completely on the ground. If you're sitting on the floor, find the most comfortable position there, using whatever props needed to give you support.
Lengthen out of the lower back and soften your shoulders. Begin to slow your breathing down. This isn't breathing as deeply as possible but rather stretching your breaths to be a little longer than they usually are. Close your eyes and do this for a bit.
Next, take your hands and place the palms gently on your belly, near the belly button. On an inhalation, slowly allow your belly to fill, causing your belly button to gently press into your hands. This action expands your belly visibly forward, like you have a watermelon growing inside of you. On your exhalation, allow the belly button to delicately return back to its original starting position, closer to your spine. Repeat this several times until your body is used to this action, as sometimes it can be challenging to isolate the abdominal muscles in this way.
Once you feel comfortable with the belly breath and are ready to move on, place your hands on your hips (picture a kiddo giving attitude), then slide them up from that position so that they're now holding onto your ribcage. Your thumbs should be touching the back of your body and fingers are touching the front. On your inhalation, allow the ribcage to open out the sides, gently pressing into your hands. As you exhale, draw the ribcage in towards your lungs. Do this several times until your body is used to the rhythm.
To complete this exercise ('cause we're just learning the technique but not quite doing it yet), place your palms on your chest, high enough so they're relatively close to your collar bones. As you inhale, breathe into your upper chest, filling up towards your collar bones. As you exhale, allow the chest to draw back in towards your heart center. Practice this isolation for a bit.
Once you feel like you understand the different elements of this technique, you can blend the individual components into a more fluid action. If needed, reposition yourself so you're comfy. Let your hands rest down on your knees or in your lap. Begin to lengthen through your spine, softening through the shoulders once again.
On your inhalation, return to that belly breath, then -- as you continue to inhale -- allow the ribcage to open out the sides, then send the breath all the way up towards your collar bones. As you exhale, feel the chests lower, draw the ribcage in towards your lungs, then pull the belly button back towards your spine. Inhale, filling the belly then opening through the ribcage, taking it all the way up towards your collar bones. As you exhale, lower the chest, draw the ribs in, and then pull the belly button towards the spine. Keep breathing like this with your eyes closed until you're ready to float away.
Once you've landed back down to Earth, take a moment and check in. Notice how your body feels.
This example was a twist on what I do prior to Savasana, but I wanted to explain how to do it while seated so it was a bit easier to understand. You can do this seated anytime you want/need to help bring yourself into balance.
During my pre-Savasana time in class, we'll do this technique laying down, using the same exact motions that we just explored. If you're so inclined, give it a try. Lay on down, allow your arms to rest near your body, slightly tucking your shoulder blades underneath you. Begin to slow your breath down. On your inhalation, lift your belly button up gently towards the sky, expand the ribs out to the sides and eventually take the breath all the way up to the collar bones. As you exhale, lower the collar bones, draw the ribs in, then release the belly button towards the floor. Keep going until you're ready to be done, finishing after your belly button lowers.
As you practice, keep in mind that there's no force used in this technique. You're not breathing in as deeply as possible but rather allowing there to be a buffer, of sorts, at the top of the inhalation as well as the bottom of the exhalation.
This breathwork is a fantastic tool to have in your yogic toolbelt. And it doesn't have to be limited to just before Savasana. In fact, I'd urge you to take 5 minutes out of your day, twice a day (okay, technically 10 minutes, I know) and just chill with it. It's also your new best friend if you're having trouble falling asleep.
One other option you can try is to simply breathe into your belly, keeping it at the initial stage of this method without involving the ribcage or chest.
Whatever way you practice this, keep it soft and flowing. There's no effort involved, only bliss and contentment. Enjoy the peace, my friend.