In just four weeks, we’ll be celebrating the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. Pre-pandemic, this time of year always felt frenetic. We were all overscheduled with work and play, with family and friends all trying to squeeze in something special.
Maybe we will all make fewer plans this year. But my strategy is to be prepared for the feelings of the season, come what may. The holidays, even if they’re quieter now, are still a time of outward expression, consumption, and connection. It might be a relief to consider this: an antidote to the noise, activity, and forced cheer could be as simple as lying down.
One of the first ways into a restorative and introspective practice in yoga is savasana, or corpse pose. To the beginner yogi, the purpose of ending a practice with savasana can seem nebulous. Are we napping? Is this supposed to be something I do? Students sometimes confess to thinking about their to-do lists, fidgeting, or singing songs in their heads.
Many yogic lineages teach savasana as a place of rest and assimilation. If the physical asana practice — whether this is a few simple movements or a lengthy, active session on the mat — is a preparation for meditation, savasana is the bridge between the two. The idea is to drop inward. The mind is not actively concentrating on anything as it would in traditional seated meditation, but there is a subtle effort to keep yourself from running away with a to-do list in your mind.
The traditional set-up is this: lie flat on your back, feet a little wider than hip-width apart, hands turned up towards the ceiling, eyes closed. There is no active effort in the body. If this is uncomfortable for any reason, you can adjust your posture. What you’re looking for is a position where physical effort is not needed to keep you there. A rolled-up towel or bolster underneath your knees can soothe an overextended lumbar spine. Savasana can last anywhere from a few minutes to 15.
Restorative yoga is an umbrella term for an entire practice as opposed to a single pose like savasana. It can be a whole practice, with props, including blankets, pillows, and eye coverings that create a cocoon and support system to hold the body in different effortless shapes from 5 to 25 minutes each.
Think Goldilocks meets Princess and the Pea. There is an effort to keep the mind on the present so that you remain embodied while resting. A breath practice or a steady scan of your body can keep you there.
Yoga nidra borrows elements from both savasana and restorative yoga and adds guided meditation, with an intention to lull you into that just-about-to-sleep state. The physical set-up is tailored to your body’s needs and can take some practice. Yoga nidra is most often guided by an experienced teacher.
Regardless of which path you choose, know that though all these options can sound easy, at least physically, staying still can often feel quite hard. With a good guide, it gets easier over time. Like in everything — practice makes practice.