“Above all, the only thing you have to heal is the present thought. Get that right and the whole picture will change into one of harmony and joy.”
– Eckhart Tolle
Being aware of our thoughts is a powerful tool for mastering our minds. When our thoughts go on without our conscious awareness they become the driving force of our actions, words and in turn our character.
Taking time to notice the thoughts that are zooming through your mind will give you insight into what patterns, habits and beliefs are running your daily life. With this awareness comes the power to choose, to put a stop sign in front of the rush of thinking we generate every moment. This gap in our thinking that is made possible by being aware of our thoughts, without judging them, gives space. With this small space we have the choice to pick our thoughts.
Instead of simply watching a seemingly random unfolding of constant thinking we can now pick what thoughts we put into our minds and in turn what ideas, beliefs, words and character we wish to live.
How to Choose Your Thoughts:
1. Close your eyes, and ask yourself one questions: What am I thinking about right now?
2. Let the answer come. It may take a few moments to clarify what is the dominate subject of your thoughts but it will come.
3. Take 10 deep slow breaths allowing your thoughts to slow.
4. Pick one thought, make it a good one. A thought that lifts your spirits, and brings excitement. Allow yourself a few minutes to fully engage with this thought, and watch where your mind will take this new, conscious thought.
If you’ve practiced Yoga for long enough you will have heard the teacher at some point say that Savasana is “the hardest pose.” After precariously perching yourself on your hands or head, I’m sure you may laugh at this idea, but as my own practice evolves I’ve experienced the profound resonance and challenges of this final pose. Savasana (corpse pose) has developed in many practices to resemble an exploding starfish for the body and a “check-out” time for the mind. This truly short-changes you and all the effort you put in before this fateful pose.
In the traditions of an Asana practice, Savasana is the final posture, yes, always. Even if you’ve practiced for years and decades, the end of your Asana practice is marked by laying on your back on the floor, and if getting down to the floor isn’t an option for you then there are variations available but the essence is the same.
What is that essence?
To rest the body in its optimal orientation so that physical, mental and spiritual integration can take place.
There are a plethora of benefits when you take the time to set your body up in a well-supported and aligned Savasana. Here are the three core experiences I’ve come to value from this final resting posture.
The activity of your nervous system is diminished. Simply put, when you get comfortably still your nervous system has less outside data to register, analyze and respond to. Even if Supta Baddha Konasana would feel “good” at the end of your practice, Savasana will serve your nervous system better. Even though you may feel super fantastic after all those arm balances, back bends and twists, your nervous system seeks the rest of stillness and the opportunity to bring joints and bones into line.
This leads to feelings of relaxation and an experience of trust in the energetic body. Trust lives as the antithesis to fear; it’s our response to being unrooted. Laying on the ground, in a rested state increases feelings of trust in the body. Trust with the world around you, trust with yourself, and trust with the practice.
Once the physical body and the energetic body blend in an experience of balance and ease then the mind can settle. It is in the restful state of Savasana that the mind shifts to increase the amount of Alpha waves. Alpha waves are the brain’s state in meditation and deep relaxation. This state allows the mind to wander freely in ease. This wandering is a good thing as it allows for processing of events, emotions and ideas without intellectual resistance. Through this state you are more easily able to put life events into perspective and even experience spontaneous inspiration and flashes of brilliance.
So, next time you come to the end of your practice and contemplate laying in some alternate shape, honour what you have worked so hard for and lay your body down with conscious placement. Laying with your legs at a natural angle from the hips and your arms at an angle that is comfortable for the shoulders is ideal. Wide legs and arms, just like confined legs and arms, are not neutral experiences for the nervous system. The head is positioned so that the neck muscles are able to relax and are not straining to have the head on the floor. The more you practice with mindful alignment in Savasana the more you will begin to experience the subtleties of your body, mind and spirit.
Have you ever ended something before you knew what was to come next? Maybe you quit your job before you had another one or ended a relationship, or a project, with no idea if, or when, something else would come along. It can feel like standing on the edge of a cliff with a herd of horses galloping toward you and an abundance of indefinable space before you. There is fear and excitement, hesitation and enthusiasm. Often we will keep ourselves from standing in this precipice to avoid the unknown. Every moment, as it sits at the end of one thing and before the start of another offers us life.
Recently I held my last class at a studio I had been teaching at for over 4 years and it was magical. Entering the studio to teach my last night was both sad for the ending and exciting for the future. Even though the transition was positive and I was leaving on good terms it was hard to say good-bye to friends and students who I have journeyed with for many years. The duality of excitement and sadness was palpable. What was unexpected was the profound experience that came with my final moments of teaching those students in that space.
While teaching my final restorative yoga class I kept getting struck in the moments of silence and stillness by the presence I was experiencing. With the immanent ending and the undefined future all I had available to me was the present. It was expansive. Each moment of the class felt heightened with the vibrancy of being fully present. As I sat there and the students drifted into their savasana I realized that every moment is charged with this vitality. If we allow each moment to be a releasing of all that came before and free from what may come next, then there is space for the expansive potential of anything to rush in. Each moment of this life is full of joy and gratitude, full of space and energy.
Along with the gifts of friends that I made from teaching those classes this magical moment of true presences is a treasure I will take with me. That clarity of present-moment experience was a physical remembrance for my soul. It was a clear expression that nothing ends or even begins; it is simply all right here, now, alive.