Are you lying comfortably?
...Then we'll begin... relaxation.
Savasana is the “traditional” relaxation posture in yoga. Yes, relaxing has a yoga posture all of its own. I’m a little shy about translating the name to English, but it’s called corpse pose. It brings to mind ‘sleeping like the dead’. Somehow that’s never struck me as a motivating name for a relaxation practise, so I avoid it. It sounds so much more poetic in Sanskrit. This is what it looks like:
Legs stretched out, arms by your sides with your palms up to the ceiling and head resting on the floor. (By the way, apologies for poor camera work - not my strong point!)
For some people it’s heavenly to sink into that position on a yoga mat. Lying on the floor rather than something soft and squishy does have advantages. The floor is flat. It stays flat when you lie on it. So if you are soft and relaxed, then the floor and gravity will realign you - balancing your shoulders, your hips and your spine.
But what if you meet your relaxation on the floor with a lifetime of tension, stress, poor alignment and protective muscle (and connective tissue) patterns? In that case, savasana might be a long way from blissful rest. How can you relax if all you can think about is pain and discomfort and how much you want to move?
Here are a few alternative postures for you to experiment with lying on your back. Use the least amount of padding and support that's comfortable. It will depend on the practise you've done, the kind of day/week/year you've had and how you're feeling. Sometimes you just need to feel supported and safe. Go with that feeling. As you learn to relax (it's a skill), then you'll also need to adjust. Don't just reach for the same props every time. Notice how you feel first. In time you could discover that you don't need extra support so often or at all.
Add a blanket
Who would have thought that would make so much difference? The front of your body is soft and instinctively feels vulnerable. Covering yourself can be soothing and reassuring for your nervous system. When you're at home, experiment with a heavier blanket. Research is suggesting that weighted blankets are helpful to calm anxious children. Maybe that works for you too?
Change your arms
I think it's important in relaxation to stay as balanced as you can on the floor and make sure there's space for you to breathe without restriction (avoid compression leggings!). If your shoulders are tight, rolling your palms up may not feel good. Maybe try putting your hands on your hips. Aim to keep your arms and your hands as soft and relaxed as you can.
Bend your knees
This is a popular one when your back or hips are feeling tight. It's quick and doesn't need any props. If this is your go to posture for relaxation, try some of the next ones too. This is a good way to release the big muscles that run from your thighs through your hips to your spine, but it doesn't encourage them stretch out once they're released.
Pillow under knees
This might work instead of bent knees and as those muscles relax, then you sink into the pillow.
Pillow under hips
A different option to play with. I find it's a comfortable one after a day of forward bending - weeding, decorating, picking up stuff as it returns the natural arch to my lower back. A soft pillow means you'll sink into it as you relax. Be careful of using something fixed and rigid as it may not fit your body's proportions.
Block under hips
A block is less forgiving, but some people love this as an option. Use the smallest that you need. No need for a special 'yoga block', a book will do the same job and you can experiment with different heights. A yoga brick is usually too high for this one.
Prop up your head
Another popular option is to prop up your head. It's useful if you find your chin is way away from your chest which usually points to upper back or shoulder tension and a tendency to carry your head in front of your shoulders (text neck anyone?). It makes lying down more comfortable, but it's also supporting the problem rather than fixing it. you might try a firm pillow or cushion instead and take care that it's not too high. Aim to use the smallest support you need - a half block or thinner book might be a good plan instead. After a while experiment reducing the support's height. If you need more than a regular block under your head, then you will put a sharp curve in your neck, so use the pillow and block option below instead.
The ultimate relaxation set up
If those muscles from your thighs to your hips are really tight (they include your psoas muscles and get especially tight from sitting a lot and STRESS), then this one can be a game changer for your relaxation practice. Also great if you have a bigger curve in your upper back and tend to hold your head forwards of your shoulders. It takes few props, but if you're doing a long yoga nidra you'll appreciate taking the time.
A book or a block first, with a pillow lengthways down the mat. Like this:
You lie with your head on the book or block and aim to get the pillow to stretch down to centre of your shoulder blades. Have a play till you find where is comfortable.
You probably won't need it, but you can add a pillow under your knees too.
Night night! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.......
In part 2, I’ll suggest some more postures for relaxation practice.