om gam yoga

Melbourne yoga instruction by Sophie Langley

Tag: savasana

Lying on the floor

Walking home from teaching one night, on the phone to my Mum, I rounded a corner to find a woman and her tiny dog, waiting to cross the road.

That dog’s on a long leash, I thought.

“Watch out for my dog, lady.” the woman said.

“It’s okay, I can see him.” I said, probably impatiently.

“Yeah well, how would I know? You’re looking down.” She snapped, and crossed the road.

“Yes,” I said, “Down. To where the dog is.”

And all of a sudden this woman and I were yelling at each other across the street, until she stormed into her apartment building and the door slammed, and I became aware of my Mum, on the phone I still held to my ear, saying “Sophie, who are you talking to?”

As I told her the story, and as is often the case for me, my indignation turned to guilt. “I can’t believe I yelled at her,” I said to Mum.

“Don’t worry,” she said “You’ll never see her again.”

And it’s true. I’ll probably never see that woman with her tiny dog on a stupidly long leash again. But it’s highly unusual for me to yell at strangers in the street. If I am, it’s a pretty good sign that there’s something not so great going on for me. Anger, frustration and grumpiness are usually an indication that I’m feeling overwhelmed by or stressed about life—often I don’t even know why.

I’m pleased that this is something I know about myself. It means I can make some little adjustments to how I organise my days, so I get enough downtime or rest. Because rest is usually the answer to stress. But it’s not always easy. In this recent piece, one of my favourite yoga writers, Yogi J Brown, discusses the ways we should (and usually don’t) deal with stress. Intimacy with ourselves, he says, is the best antidote—that is, spending time with ourselves in a way that allows us to see what’s going on. Noticing the anger or frustration is the first step.

When I was a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time lying on the floor or my bed, just listening to music. One afternoon, my Mum came into my bedroom to find that I’d actually fallen asleep on the floor, my head just centimetres from a speaker that was blaring music. It’s easy to be dismissive, to say that I could afford to do that then because I didn’t have the responsibilities I do now. But that’s a load of crap. Yes, I do have more responsibilities now, but surely that just makes it all the more important that I get some downtime, so I’m able to deal with those responsibilities… well, responsibly.

In my essay for The Emerging Writer, I explored some of the benefits for writing of doing nothing (well, almost nothing—listening still counts as something, really) with the physical body. To briefly summarise that part of the essay, doing nothing allows the body and the mind to process stuff, and potentially to make links between things that might not be immediately obvious, or that the brain might not have made otherwise.

Obviously, this can be good for writing. But it’s also just good for us on a more general level. Rest—waking rest, as well as sleep— is really important. (And ‘rest’, by the way, is just as metabolically active as activity—it just uses energy in different ways.)

In this piece on the benefits of the yoga pose savasana (which translates as ‘corpse pose’ and basically involves lying on the floor doing nothing), Sydney yoga teacher Brooke McCarthy writes in detail about what happens when we relax deeply—and how to do it. After reading this piece I decided I needed savasana to make an appearance in my life every day. I haven’t quite managed that yet, but on the days when I do get to it, everything seems just a little calmer. Honestly, lying on the floor for ten or fifteen minutes when I’m really busy makes the world of difference to my state of mind. And, really, if I’m feeling overwhelmed anyway, what am I really going to get done in those fifteen minutes?

And while I’m on the subject of ‘busy’. That words makes me cranky. I’d never really thought about why until I read this piece about the trap of busyness (interesting: my eyeToy autocorrects busyness to business). Writer Tim Krieder suggests that being busy is an avoidance tactic—if we’re busy, we don’t need to face ourselves, and all those things that are worrying us or upsetting us. And the more I teach yoga, the more I realise that everyone has at leat some of that kind of baggage. Facing it is hard, so makes sense that we don’t want to do it. But avoiding it doesn’t make it go away. For me at least, avoidance often makes the worry warp into something else—like yelling at a woman and her dog on the street.

My response lately to the question ‘how are you?’ has been ‘busy’. And after I’d said it a few times, I realised that it, along with the crankiness I was carrying around, was an indication I was doing too much.

All of this is a very roundabout way of saying that, once again, I’m returning to that teenage habit of lying on the floor listening to music on a regular basis. I’m trying to get some nothing into each if my days. It’s amazing. I feel instantly less busy.

Yoga and Resolutions

Sydney yoga is interesting in January: classes are busier; summer deals at various yoga schools allow students to try out classes they might not otherwise or attend more classes than they usually would; yoga rooms are steamy with the sticky Sydney summer weather and extra bodies. There’s a sense of expectation in many Sydney yoga classes – and no doubt in other classes that involve moving your body around.

The expectation, perhaps, is that this year will be the one; it will be the year in which people will get fit and healthy, be kinder, and take more care of themselves and the world around them.

At the breaking of the new year, many of us make resolutions about the areas of our lives we’d like to improve. I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions. But this year, in trying to decide between the two or three options I had for celebrating the beginning of 2011, I found myself thinking about what this ‘New Year’ business is really about.

Putting all the celebrations and fireworks aside, marking the new year is about letting go of things that have passed, and looking forward to things that might be. In the northern hemisphere, New Year’s Eve occurs at around the same time as the Winter Solstice. This is a time where people in some cultures perform rituals to figuratively rid themselves of the things they no longer want in their lives, so that there is space for the things that they do want.

Of course, we could do this any day of the year, but there’s something nice about collectively moving on, and that process coinciding with the beginning of a new year.

Heading back to work, school and normal life after the holiday period, however, it can be difficult to integrate our plans, be they humble or grand. Regular life for many of us is busy – I know for myself that rushing between the various yoga classes I teach each week, the writing projects I’m working on, and keeping up with the administration required to run a small business, the end of each week comes around quickly, and usually with far too many things left on my To Do list.

We need savasana after a yoga class to allow the benefits of the practice to be fully integrated into our minds and bodies. For this reason, the final relaxation is perhaps the most important part of the class – even though it might seem like you’re just lying there. Similarly, if we want to make changes in our lives, we need to allow ourselves some stillness in which the desire for change can become motivation to move towards actually making that change.

“Perhaps the simplest and most profound practice for deactivating old patterns,” say Mary and Rick NurrieStearns – a pyschotherapist and yoga teacher, and meditation teacher respectively, “is taking the time to be still and quiet. Sitting down and doing nothing gives you a chance to unwind and let your mind relax. You literally stop moving long enough to get your bearings, to see where you are and what’s going on.”

At this time of year especially then, it’s important we allow ourselves to take some quiet time if there are changes we’d like to see in our lives. A slow walk through the local park has always helped me, as has sitting quietly with a cup of tea for ten minutes.

The NurrieStearns suggest sitting quietly and noticing the small space between your breaths. Notice the pause, however brief, before and after your exhale. Similarly, they say, you might sit and notice the gap between your thoughts. Some days the gap between your breaths and thoughts will be very brief, perhaps almost imperceptible. Other days you might notice a longer pause.

Of course, if you’ve been meaning to for a while, now might be a good time to take advantage of one of the many deals that Sydney yoga schools are offering – and allow yourself to really enjoy the stillness of the final relaxation.