Keep Calm and Savasana

Often, we hear teachers say that “Savasana is the most important part of yoga practice”. For many of us, savasana is just a chance for us to finally relax (and sleep) at the end of our yoga class. Sometimes, we might even skip it as we rush off to our next appointment. So why is it the most important pose? 

Physical benefit: It creates balance in our body

After an energetic practice, savasana helps to bring our body back to our balanced state, as our temperature and heart rate return to normal. Exercise creates stress on our body and this may put us in a fight-or-flight state. By taking the time to relax after practice, it allows our body to release the tension and stress that we have held in, be it during the class or during the day. This also helps us to reap in the benefits of our practice, as our body takes the time to feel and absorb the physical, mental and spiritual effects of the different poses. 

Mental benefit: It calms our mind

As we lay in stillness, it gives us the chance to clear our mind and focus on our breathing. In today’s busy world, how often do we really take the time to switch off and have some quiet time to ourselves? Sometimes, even as I flow through the yoga sequence, I find my mind wandering to random things like what shall I eat after class. Savasana allows us to quiet these thoughts, which in turn helps our central nervous system to calm down. This leads to better memory and less overall stress.    

Spiritual benefit: It promotes spiritual awakening and awareness of higher consciousness 

Also known as the “corpse pose”, some say that savasana brings the practitioner to a contemplation of death. “Although it might seem grim at first, meditating on death is actually one of the most uplifting and motivating spiritual practices, because it reminds us of what’s important in life – and of just how precious this human life is.”

In my opinion, savasana teaches us how to surrender and let go (perhaps, just like in death). We surrender our thoughts, our bodies, and our ego. For those few moments, we surrender fully and completely to the moment. To me, that is the first step to spiritual awakening. 

To end off, here’s a quote by B.K.S. Iyengar from the Light on Yoga — “The stresses of modern day civilisation are a strain on the nerves for which Śavāsana is the best antidote”. With so much going on around us right now, maybe we should all take some time to keep calm and savasana~

My road to headstand

Ever since I face-planted on the floor and hurt myself while attempting a crow pose 2 years ago, I have been wary of doing arm balances and inversions. I kept telling myself that “I’m not strong enough”, “My yoga practice is not so advanced yet”. Whenever I went for yoga classes and the teachers said that “If you have inversions in your practice, you may get into them now”, I will sit down and think to myself, “One day…but not today”. 

Finally, in October last year, I decided to stop giving myself all these excuses and kick-started my inversion journey by going for an inversion class. It was a class on hollow back headstand and everyone was experienced except me. Thankfully, it was a very small class so the teacher was able to spend some time teaching me the basics such as hand and head placement, as well as how to prepare for a headstand. The dreaded moment came when he said, “XY, I want you to come up into a headstand now.” I swallowed my saliva, placed my arms and head on the mat, and up I went. My arms were shaking and my legs were flailing as I tried to make sense of this strange sensation of being upside down. Just when I felt that I was going to fall over, the teacher caught hold of my legs and there I was, in my first headstand. Yes, it was scary, but it wasn’t as scary as I’ve imagined it to be! 

After that, the teacher taught me how to use the wall as a support, and that began my self-practice at home as I tried to get into a headstand on my own. Using the wall really helped me to gain confidence and feel comfortable being upside down. However, what really eliminated my fear of falling over was in fact, by falling over. Once, I toppled over while trying to do a headstand without the wall. After the initial shock, what surprised me more was how okay it felt. From then on, I was more daring to try the different inversion poses (even managed to kick into a handstand last week!). 

What this headstand journey has taught me is that more often than not, what’s preventing us from achieving greater things in life are the mental barriers that we have created ourselves. Do not be scared to try new things, and more importantly, do not be afraid to fail. Once we’ve experienced what it feels to “fail”, we can better prepare ourselves to succeed in the next try. 

From resting my butt on the wall to stretching my legs out and now trying to do the knee-tuck method without the wall, I’m still a long way from the perfect headstand. However, I’m proud of what I’ve achieved so far and I know that slowly but surely, I will get there. If I can do it, you can too 🙂

“Our only limitations are those we set up in our own minds” – Napoleon Hill

Yoga and other sports

Yoga is not only a good form of exercise on its own but also a great complement to many other types of sports. One such example is surfing. 

I had a brief encounter with surfing after participating in a surf camp in 2017. During the camp, we did two surf sessions, as well as a yoga class every day. Initially, I thought that the yoga classes were just to stretch out our sore muscles. However, as I learnt more about the surfing techniques, I realised that both of them are actually deeply intertwined because many of the surfing poses are similar to yoga poses. 

Credit: https://barefootsurftravel.com/livemore-magazine/how-to-do-a-take-off

For example, while paddling out on the board, we’re on our belly and our back is slightly arched/chest lifted up. This is similar to Bhujangasana (Cobra pose). After we’ve caught the wave and ready to “push up”, we get into a pose similar to Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog), but with the toes tucked. Finally, we shift our back leg forward and stand up in a position like Virabhadrasana B (Warrior 2)! 

Of course, apart from the poses above, I find that yoga also helps to train up the following areas which are beneficial for other types of sports as well.

1. Core strength 

I believe many of us have heard our instructors telling us to “squeeeeeze the core!”. Indeed, most of the yoga poses work on core strength. From Navasana (Boat pose) to Kakasana (Crow pose) to Sirsasana (Headstand), all of them require us to engage our core muscles. Not just for athletes, having a strong core is important for everyone, because it helps to stabilize our body, strengthens our back muscles and holds up our body.  

2. Flexibility

A lot of the yoga poses help to stretch our muscles and increase our range of motion, which in turn improve our flexibility. Hence, I feel that yoga will be a good complement to rock climbing, because with better flexibility, we’re able to bend our bodies into awkward positions as we try to reach for that foothold and push ourselves up.  

3. Better breathing

Yoga teaches us how to breathe properly through the practice of different types of pranayama. Proper breathing techniques help to improve our respiratory system and build up our stamina. This will be beneficial for people who do aerobic exercises like running, swimming and hiking etc. 

Nowadays, with more sports facilities and gyms around, a lot of us are doing different types of sports. Whichever sport that you’re doing, I strongly encourage you to incorporate yoga into your training routine, be it as a form of stretching or as a complement to the sport. Give it a try and you might be surprised how it can improve your performance and overall well-being!

Yoga for Headaches

Yoga is known to have many benefits. To me, a lot of them are long-term benefits which come with consistent practice, for example, stronger muscles, better heart health and improved mental wellbeing. Hence, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the immediate effect that yoga has on headaches. 

I tend to get headaches easily. Over the years, I’ve realised that the 3 main causes of headaches for me are:

  1. Dehydration from too much sun exposure (or when it’s too warm outside);
  2. Staring at the computer for too long (eye strain);
  3. Sleeping in an air-conditioned room with wet hair (sign of old age?)

All of them give me tension headaches, which is this feeling of tightness or pressure across your forehead, or on the sides and back of your head. As I try not to take any medication for these headaches, I’ll just endure through the day and hope that a good night’s sleep will make them disappear. 

One day, I went for a yin yoga class despite my throbbing headache because it was too late to cancel the booking. During the class, the teacher told us to take long and deep breaths, and we held each pose for a few minutes. Even though we were on the ground most of the time and it felt like we didn’t do much, by the end of the 1-hour class, my headache had disappeared!

As it turns out, yoga is a powerful natural remedy for headaches because most headaches are tension-related, and doing yoga helps to release tension and stress in the body. The yin yoga class gave me the chance to slow down my mind and focus on my breathing. Every deep and slow inhalation and exhalation increased the amount of oxygenated blood that flowed to my brain, and that helped with the pain and stress. From then on, whenever I have a headache, I’ll go for a yin class and it has worked every time! 

Here are 5 poses which are good for relieving headaches:

  1. Cat pose (Marjaryasana): Relieves tension in the spine, shoulders and neck, and helps to boost circulation in the upper body.
  2. Child’s pose (Balasana): Calms the nervous system and reduces pain.
  3. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana): Increases blood circulation to the brain.
  4. Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana): Calms the brain and relieves stress.
  5. Corpse Pose (Savasana): Completely relaxes the body and brings it into a deep state of meditative rest.