I distinctly remember my favorite Savasana. I lay with my body firmly grounded in the earth. As I took a deep, cleansing breath, my muscles relaxed. I focused on my mind, willing it to stop the swirling thoughts. A warm hand elongated the back of my neck. A soothing voice interrupted my mental chatter and guided me to count backward from 10 to 1. I floated into gentle hypnosis. My mind was open and still, and I drifted into presence and relaxation.
Often described as the "dessert" of yoga practice, Savasana relaxes the physical body and calms the mind and emotions by releasing unconscious tension. Pairing a few hypnotic techniques with a traditional hands-on adjustment can amplify the results of a focused, restful Savasana. Here's how to bring these techniques to your next class.
Carly Cummings, cofounder of Hyp-Yoga, combines the benefits of yoga and hypnosis to create a more profound Savasana. Unlike the sensationalized hypnosis portrayed in movies, therapeutic hypnosis allows participants to maintain their free will and control over their mind and behaviors. "Being guided to a deeper state of relaxation and awareness through hypnosis is a huge benefit for students who have scattered thoughts," says Cummings.
Employing the use of visualization and commands, Hyp-Yoga helps students change their mental state, bringing about focus, clarity, and calm. It can be used for an entire sequence, but the benefits are greatest in Savasana. Proponents of Hyp-Yoga believe it has the power to bring students into a trance-like state of heightened focus that is similar to states of consciousness during deep levels of meditation. This increased ability to concentrate is the result of elevated levels of gamma brain waves. Gamma brain waves are thought to be responsible for that "dropped in" feeling advanced meditation brings about. According to a study by the Boston University School of Medicine, experienced yoga practitioners can help elevate gamma brain waves during a yoga session, and Hyp-Yoga techniques specifically trigger that state.
A certified hypnotherapist and yoga instructor, Cummings recommends using visualization to take students to a place that you can describe in complete sensory detail. This ensures that students remain fully aware by using the whole mind—the conscious or every day mind as well as the often hidden subconscious. Draw students a mental image of a lake, forest, mountain, or other restful scene. Work on descriptive details and keep your voice even and soft.
At the end of this visual story, count back from 10 and provide an action statement (such as "Your mind will be clear") associated with reaching the number 1. If all goes well is, your students will notice the experiential difference of a deeper state of awareness.
A more traditional way to help students in Savasana is to use physical adjustments to release tension. Jen Sayers, a Kripalu Yoga instructor in Park City, Utah, suggests being clear with students about why you provide adjustments. "I tell my students the assist is not 'you're doing it wrong,'" she says. "The assist is 'let me see if I can help your body relax.'"
Sayers, who is also a trained Thai Yoga therapist, suggests starting with adjustments to the feet, since they're the lowest point of circulation in the body. Stimulation and pressure break up and release toxins that collect in the energy channels of the feet. "Bringing warmth to the feet helps draw the negative energy down and out," she says.
Apply pressure to the five plantar lines that run from the top of the heel to each toe mound. "If you bring your hand over the arch and run your thumb up each of those lines, you can release the feet and mobilize the hip joint," Sayers says. Another technique, rotating the feet inward by rolling them on the heels, further opens the hips.
To determine other areas where students are holding tension, observe them lying on the floor. Since many people tend to round their shoulders, "spreading the shoulder blades is like spreading our angel wings in our energy body," says Duncan Wong, founder of Yogic Arts, which is a yoga system that includes martial arts and meditation. Hold your student's relaxed arm at the elbow and use your opposite hand to reach underneath the scapula and gently bring it in and down. When you release the arm it should naturally rotate in so that the palm faces up.
Wong also recommends cradling the pelvis to move the sacrum toward the tailbone. This further elongates the spine and releases the hips. And don't forget the neck, which requires minimal assistance for maximum benefit. "Make sure you've worked with students before adjusting their necks, so you know if they have an injury," Sayers says. It's less about making big adjustments and more about shifting the position of the head.
The golden rule of adjustments is to obtain consent from your students. In order to minimize distraction, allow students to settle onto their backs in Savasana, then have them raise their hands if they don't want to be touched. This should be done after everyone's eyes are closed to ensure anonymity. Alternatively, you can use the Kripalu method, in which students place a star at the top of their mat if they prefer not to be adjusted.
Wong believes the timing of such adjustments should be limited only to the beginning of Savasana. "I try to get throughout the room early to allow time for them to be in their own space," he says.
The same principle of "getting out of the way" is true for guided hypnosis and meditation. "Hypnosis ends and turns into meditation the moment the instructor stops speaking," says Cummings. "When students don't need the visualization anymore, they can just slide into traditional mediation."
Given the current level of stress in our society, most students welcome a deeper form of Savasana, but both adjustments and hypnosis can seem daunting to even the most seasoned instructors.
Wong recommends creating a study group with fellow yogis to teach each other proper Savasana adjustments. "Massage is the other half of yoga," he says. "The alignment and adjustments combined with the openness from a grounded place seems to be what makes the magic happen."
For more information on Hyp-Yoga techniques and training, please visit www.hyp-yoga.com.
Liz Yokubison is an avid yogi and freelance writer who lives in Park City, Utah.