What does it mean to really rest?

Much of what we think of as ‘resting’ is pretty active. Watching Netflix, reading a book, listening to a podcast, scrolling through Instagram, paying attention to current affairs—all tasks that require our brains to be engaged and alert. It’s rare that we allow ourselves to simply be, letting the mind drift and the body be entirely idle. Even catching some zzzs isn’t the same as conscious, deliberate rest. Our brains work like crazy as we dream and our cells shift into maintenance mode while we sleep—not to mention that we wind up in all kinds of not-so-comfortable positions when we subconsciously shift in bed.

Soft relaxed savasana hands
Soft, relaxed savasana hands

In a really good savasana, or resting corpse pose, our joints get soft, our muscles release tension, and all those ‘what-ifs’ and ‘shoulds’ and ‘must-dos’ that plague our minds disappear. We finally get to really rest.

In addition to letting ourselves be completely at rest, spending a few minutes in savasana pose—with no demands from others, no striving to accomplish something, no thoughts of what’s coming next or reflections on the past—reminds us that we are worth taking care of. It’s a clear message that our value is greater than the sum of our accomplishments. The contents of our bank accounts, the letters behind our names, the content of our social media presences, the stuff we’ve amassed— none of that is really us. With savasana, we get to just be ourselves and wholly be with ourselves.

Part of the secret to being able to let go in savasana is being really well supported—by the space, the teacher, and, of course, the props. I remember Judith Hanson Lasater saying in restorative yoga teacher training, “When you’re properly propped, there’s no choice but to relax!”—and, as the de facto mother of restorative yoga, she oughta know what she’s talking about! A few days ago, Judith posted a quote on Instagram that struck a chord with me:

Give your students a gift that no one else in their lives will: of doing nothing and just being for at least 20 minutes.

Judith Hanson Lasater

It’s true: I can’t think of anywhere other than a yoga class that people are allowed (encouraged even) to do nothing. The classes I teach at Younion Yoga in Zürich (particularly the 90-minute restorative sessions on Friday evenings) have wonderfully long, well-propped savasanas that encourage deliberate rest. And I’m leading an even longer restorative yoga class on Sunday, March 22 (details and registration here) that will invite full-on relaxation—and will definitely have 20+ minutes set aside for the wonderfulness that is doing nothing!

The image from Judith’s Instagram post is taken from her article ‘Restorative (Re)Treat about finding refuge.’ Read more of Judith’s guidance on how to set up an irresistible savasana in the ‘Self-Care’ issue of Yoga Journal (November/December 2019). Your local library is probably a great source for back issues!

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