Once a week I teach a private yoga class to a small group of psychiatrists and counselors who work with children suffering from severe emotional challenges. Each week I am never sure which doctors will show up, but for a core team of about 3. The senior doctors who will be there without fail. Yoga for these doctor’s is their therapy.
One afternoon it was just these three humble and loyal students. A side note: As a teacher, there is nothing more rewarding than a student who wants to learn. It’s not how many people are showing up to class, it’s how they’re showing up to class. Being a loyal student is essentially the same as buying a musician’s CD because you want to hear more; we are all music makers in some way – our notes just vary a little.
After a fun class where we played with headstands and other poses they had not practiced before, we ended in a 7 minute meditation followed by a few more minutes of savasana (pronounced: Shah vah suh nuh).
When class was over, the usual calm, serene silence filled the room before one of the doctors, the director of the center I believe, asked “What’s the difference between meditation and savasana?”
A very, very good question.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with either. Here is the cereal box description, images first:
Savasana means ‘corpse pose’ – It is the ultimate pose of surrender since you’re not required to do anything except lie down. Seriously, nothing else to do. It usually happens at the end of a yoga class. Here, you just let yourself be. Your mind can wander, you can think about anything you want, the only rule here is to do nothing . Therein lies the challenge, most of us just can’t do that. Just be. No set of instructions from the teacher, no ‘correct’ position to be in (at lease in the yoga that I teach – some teachers might try to police your experience. Don’t listen to them!), no mantra to quietly chant (unless you want to). The idea is to do nothing. Which, in our action based world is really difficult. Sometimes more challenging, in a completely different way, than the poses (asana’s). In fact, I have had many students who simply leave when it’s time for Savasana, thinking it’s a waste of time. They’re ready to get going on their action list. It always breaks my heart a little when they leave the room.
Savasana is where the practice comes together.. Maybe you have a moment where it ‘ALL’ comes together, that can happen too – but not guaranteed and that’s the path we walk in yoga; we realize nothing is guaranteed. It is here, lying on the floor, or your mat, where the movement and momentum of your actions – both physical and psychological can harmonize. There is a buzz. A sweet, resonating buzz that spins within. It’s the reward after a lot of effort.
Savasana is the candy.
If Savasana is the candy, then Meditation is the candy store. Some think of meditation as clearing your mind, I like to think of it as cleaning your mind. Like savasana, there is an element of stillness…which is the first challenge to get through. Once you are able to get through stage one of simply sitting still, the clarity begins! Ha! If only it were that simple.
There is just SO MUCH literature and information on the benefits of meditation. I really couldn’t even touch the surface of what abundance can happen in your life from a meditation practice. But get this – it’s REALLY FUCKING HARD WORK! In the beginning. Like I said, sitting is just the start of it, once you have the sitting part down the work of organizing and mapping out the winding, intangible, explosive and irrational pathways your mind travels is next…and THAT. NEVER. ENDS. Apparently (hasn’t ended for me yet).
It’s really very difficult to explain both, because nothing happens in either except your experience! And that’s the conundrum, how do you explain an experience that is extremely personal, and ever evolving? It is a different experience every time.
Generally, when I am in savasana my mind wanders from judgement, to what I am going to have for my next meal, to thinking about how my body feels. In class last night, for example, I didn’t want to close my eyes and instead I stared at the EXIT sign above me and got lost in the deep redness of the light – Who the hell knows what’s supposed to happen?
In meditation, you use your mind. With techniques we try to organize is it a little neater; tidying up the trail of confusion that the mind can often leave when left on it’s own. You use your mind in very specific ways to help clear space and slow down. Some people have clear visions, deep questions can be answered and a strong sense of knowing yourself becomes a very profound result of a meditation practice.
I had an experience, mediating on the beach close to sundown where mosquitoes were buzzing around. This was work; to stay there and stay in meditation and will them away. I was sitting with my friend. They landed, and bit my friend – I didn’t get one bite. It doesn’t always happen like that for me, and maybe it had nothing to do with my state of meditation but I like to think it did.
I am still very tender in my meditation practice. I still focus very much on my breath to slow my thoughts down, and sometimes I can never seem to slow them down, but I continue to practice. As Sharon Salzberg says “at the moment you return to the breath, that’s the moment of awareness – the returning, that’s the critical moment”. It’s easy to let our minds wander and then after too long beat ourselves up when we remember the breath, but she says THAT is the moment. When you remember to breath, focus on that, and just start again. The spaces between that get shorter over time.
You can find many different ways to enter meditation, there are many schools of thought from Buddhist, to Taoist to simple compassion and loving kindness and I encourage you to explore. There are many free podcasts on Itunes offering meditations, some are slightly amateurish, but play anyway. I love Sharon’s ease and style of teaching. She is a modern woman, and very accessible, and with over 40 years of mediation practice she has a lot to teach. I also recommend the teachings of the following:
I also recommend the following website for resources
A great reason to start a savasana or meditation practice by a leading teacher of Restorative Yoga; Judith Lasater
And. If you liked this post, you will love this guest post by Vicky Cook “I meditate to avoid being an asshole“