“I had prepared the atmosphere for a special candlelight Yin & Restorative class, and everyone had settled in for savasana,” recalls Marla Ericksen, founder of Empower ME Yoga Studio in Ottawa, Ontario. “I reached for my iPod to start the soothing music that was to accompany our journey to serenity when ‘Locked Out of Heaven’ by Bruno Mars blasted out of the speakers at what seemed like 9,000 decibels.”
When we facilitate mindful disciplines in group or personal training environments, creating a safe and peaceful space to engage with, and draw from, the mind-body connection is one of the gifts we offer our participants. Done well, a final savasana can be integrative and healing; even for pros, however, good intentions sometimes backfire. Here, successful professionals in the mind-body field explore their best and worst savasana-like experiences in the hope of inspiring—or forewarning!—others.
The Best of Times and the Worst of Times
While closings differ across disciplines—yoga concludes with corpse pose and tai chi ends with a standing qigong move, for example—many practices find common ground in finishing with some kind of meditative body scan after active physical work.
The ability to offer others a unique, transformative experience of this type often comes from having lived such events firsthand. Paul Galloro, E-RYT 500 and founder of Paul Galloro Wellness Centre in Richmond Hill, Ontario, says his most inspirational savasana began in a saline flotation tank: “I was floating in complete darkness, with ear plugs. I started by thinking, ‘Wow! How can I bring this to my classes?’ and my mind started to wander. I noticed my body started moving, bumping into the walls of the pod, and my legs even started sinking towards the bottom of the pool. My neck was tense from trying to support my head. I changed my breath to match the mantra ‘I am here now.’ Within moments, my neck relaxed, my legs floated back to the surface, and my body stopped moving. I felt as though I had become part of the water. Time stood still and flew simultaneously. While I can’t take personal flotation tanks to all of my students, I definitely now continue to recreate the experience verbally for them [in savasana].”
Not all teachers draw from their best moments; sometimes a momentary setback can broaden an educator’s overall vision. Valerie C. Grant owns The Posture Coach Studio, in Devon, Pennsylvania, and is a PMA®-certified Pilates teacher and Feldenkrais® Guild-certified practitioner based in Philadelphia. She candidly shares that, during her first time presenting sessions in Bangkok, “I hadn’t done my cultural homework, and I asked the participants to lie supine and prone on their mats while I spoke to them. I didn’t know that lying face-down on mats where they’d previously been standing barefoot would be offensive to some cultures, and difficult to hear and understand for others. A few students hesitated. I mistook it for a language barrier and kept insisting [that they] do it. Although I regret it to this day, I am grateful for the lesson it taught me: Know your participants’ cultures when trying to create a safe savasana-like space.”
Fortunately, some errors can be more easily remedied. Remember Bruno Mars shattering the tranquillity of Ericksen’s class? She made a quick recovery: “We were all shocked into the present moment. The room burst into laughter, and I was divinely led to jump to my feet and dance with wild abandon. The class followed my lead. Then I had everyone stand still and bear witness to this life-affirming experience. The spontaneous nature of the shared experience heightened our capacity for mindfulness, and we symbolically broke open the locks that kept us out of heaven!”
Compelling savasana-like mindful closures can occur in many disciplines. Galloro recalls leading a session at the canfitpro 2015 convention in Toronto where many participants were moved to tears by the music. “I led them through my ‘Chakra Dance Party,’ and we finished with everyone’s breath connected, movements fluid and the room unified. As the dance transitioned into savasana, they could feel the energy settle, and that's when it happened. I could hear people having emotional releases all around the room, and even I began to cry as I guided the group of 70 through a chakra-clearing meditation.”
What Works and What Doesn’t
A truly memorable savasana-like experience depends on many factors, including environment, music, tone of voice, and actual content.
A quiet, still, comfortable setting is certainly conducive to a successful savasana. But pure silence isn’t necessary and is likely impossible. Distractions like air-conditioning or heating units turning on and off, cellphone vibrations, and music from other classes frequently permeate the savasana experience. Helping participants to find a balance between their bodies and the environment is one of the tasks for facilitators.
“Popular distractions can be advantageous,” says Lyndsay Murray, mindfulness instructor at Exhale Spas in Dallas. “Instead of ignoring [them], I remind my participants [to recognize them], then invite the mind to turn away and focus on the savasana at hand. If we just had a perfect environment all the time in mind-body, then we’d never really help students own up to learning the power of fine-tuning the mind in the midst of life’s noises.”
For more savasana experiences, please see “Was It Good for You, Too?” in the online IDEA Library or in the May 2016 print edition of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at 800-999-4332, ext. 7.