Yoga – a holistic wellness practice
Many people are drawn to Yoga to gain strength and flexibility, or simply to get a “good stretch”. The subtler gifts of Yoga reveal themselves with persistent practice; yogis/yoginis feel energized yet relaxed, calm yet focused, strong yet flexible. What differentiates Yoga from other forms of exercise? Yoga is a holistic wellness practice. A well-balanced Yoga practice includes proper sequencing (vinyasa), poses (asanas), breath control (pranayama), meditation and relaxation. Ideally, Yoga classes are designed according to the time of day, season of the year, age and physical condition of the practitioners. A morning practice in the winter is more energizing than a practice designed for a summer evening. Classes designed to build strength and stamina differ from gentle, restorative classes intended to rejuvenate stressed out practitioners at the end of a demanding work week.
Yoga sequences follow a pattern, choreographed from beginning to end, known as sequencing (vinyasa). Most classes begin in seated meditation. Attention gradually shifts from the external world inward and onto the mat, known as withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). As a teacher, I que my students to observe body, mind, energy and breath, feel gratitude for the present moment, then set an intention for practice. The active phase of practice is what most people associate with Yoga – seated, kneeling, standing, prone and supine postures.
Learning to be still is as important as learning to move.
Classes wind down with a set of supine restorative poses, culminating in five to ten minutes in Corpse Pose (Savasana). Poses become progressively slower with longer pauses. Exhales lengthen, releasing tension with each successive round of breath. Coming full circle, class ends where it began – in seated mediation. Before parting, students pause to feel the full effects of their Yoga practice and leave feeling rejuvenated. From an Ayurvedic perspective, restorative poses balance Vata (air and ether) energy in the body.
Supine restorative poses include:
- Gentle hamstring stretch (Suptapadaangusta)
- Extend legs up towards the ceiling with torso rests on the mat; support legs with hands behind legs or with a strap.
- Outer hip stretch or eye of the needle (Sucirandhrasana)
- Releases tension in outer hip.
- Reclined Butterfly (Supta Baddha Konasana)
- Relaxes and stretches thigh and groin.
- Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)
- Stretches the inner thighs, groin and hamstring.
- Releases the spine and sacrum and SI (sacroiliac) joint.
- Knees to chest (Apanasana)
- Brings body back into symmetry.
- Gently massages abdomen and organs of digestion.
- Releases tension in lower back.
- Legs up the wall (Vipariti karani)
- Releases tension in the legs, pelvic floor and lower back & aids in circulation.
- Aids in a peaceful night’s sleep.
- Corpse pose (Savasana)
- Pose of repose; Savasana is a state of rest without sleeping at the end of practice.
Savasana – More than a Nap
Savasana provides an opportunity to synthesize and absorb Yoga practice, mentally, emotionally and physically. Focus returns inward. The rhythm of the heartbeat and breath slow to an almost imperceptible resting rhythm. Muscles relax and soften, bones feel heavy and the entire body yields to gravity and the healing, grounding energy of relaxation. Savasana stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and calms the sympathetic nervous system. Practioners enter a transitional, liminal space, betwixt and between the conscious and unconscious realms – a place where healing, self-awareness and change can occur.
Coming into Savasana
- Extend your legs with arms by your side and palms facing up
- Alternative – bend your knees with feet on the floor (for back issues).
- Dress to stay warm but not overheated.
- Add cushions for the most comfortable pose.
- Observe, then relax each part of your body.
- Envision softness and openness in previously tight mental, emotional, and physical places.
- Allow your body to “sink” into the mat.
- Notice your emotional and mental state.
- Count slower and slower rounds of breath to aid in relaxation.
- Close your eyes; use an eye pillow.
According to Lilias Folan in Yoga Gets Better with Age, there are four aspects of relaxation:
- Focus your attention on each part of our body.
- Suggest – use your inner voice rather than letting it use you with mental chatter.
- Pause – wait and allow the experience to unfold. This is a moment to sharpen your inner awareness.
- Feel – the sensations within your body. Do not think or judge.
Relaxation thrives with repetition. The components – focus, suggest, pause and feel remain consistent but the results change with each practice.
Benefits of Savasana
- Calms the mind & improves focus and concentration
- Reduces stress, anxiety and tension
- Balances energy & improves sleep
- Relaxes muscles
- Aids in digestion
Just for Now
Just for now, without asking how, let yourself sink into stillness. Just for now, lay down the weight you so patiently bear upon your shoulders. Feel the earth receive you, and the infinite expanse of the sky grow even wider as your awareness reaches up to meet it. Just for now, allow a wave of breath to enliven your experience. Breathe out whatever blocks you from the truth. Just for now, be boundless, free, with awakened energy tingling in your hands and feet. Drink in the possibility of being who and what you really are – so fully alive that the world looks different, newly born and vibrant, just for now.
~ Danna Faulds
Want to read more about the energetics of Yoga? Read my article in Seattle Yoga News.