Ever feel a little bit confused by the differences between meditation, savasana, yoga nidra, restorative yoga, and sleep?
You aren't alone! In today's post, I'm going to break it down so that even Joey could understand. Let's get started.
First, don't let worrying about whether you are doing any of these practices "right" stop you from enjoying them. While there are definitely differences between each of them, don't worry if they start to overlap with each other, because they will. It's okay. Keep practicing, engage in some self-study to learn more, and attend classes when possible to deepen your practice. But again, I see people applying the achievement mentality to yoga and it doesn't work that way. No gold medals are given out for savasana. Just explore and enjoy.
I thought about pulling in a lot of quotes from the world's greatest meditation experts here, people like Sharon Salzberg, Jack Kornfield, etc. Instead, I'm going to stick with my own, straightforward explanations. For me, meditation is the practice of becoming aware of my thoughts. In order to do this, I sit, close my eyes, and turn inward. Then, I watch my thoughts.
This witness mentality is what makes meditation unique. Rather than being inside of the thoughts, "What should I make for dinner? I have to fold my laundry. My foot hurts," I watch the thoughts begin and end. One visual that I like to offer students is to imagine that you are standing still, watching a leaf blow past you in the wind. You might also envision a river flowing by you or a balloon floating into the sky. The thoughts come, and then rather than attaching to them and getting carried away, we watch them leave.
Meditation is typically practiced in a seated position and savasana is practiced lying down, although some bodies need to make different choices for comfort. Many schools of thought believe that having the spine upright in meditation is a way to "power up" the energy body. Old school yogis would sit in lotus pose so that if they dozed off while meditating for hours, they wouldn't fall over. That's great for them, but I usually sit cross-legged with lots of props to support me (blanket under butt, blocks under knees).
Another difference is that when in savasana, we are practicing rest. We are allowing our bodies to just melt into the mat. In meditation, we are a bit more intentional. We want to be comfortable so that our body doesn't distract us, but rest is not our primary focus. Awareness is.
2. Savasana (corpse pose)
Savasana translates as corpse pose, although many Western teachers and students prefer rest pose, which feels a little less morbid. What this means for me is that I surrender in savasana. I don't worry about my breath or my thoughts or my body. I just let go. Your work is done. There is nothing for you to do here.
Savasana is typically practiced at the end of an asana (mat-based postures) session. However, I would encourage you to consider making savasana its very own practice. In this busy, modern world of ours, spending five-minutes in savasana each day can be very powerful.
One common question about savasana regards falling asleep. It is common for students to doze off here. Is that okay?
Of course. If you fall asleep in savasana it simply means that your body needs sleep. But sleep and savasana aren't the same thing. Savasana is about surrender. You are awake but at rest. Learning how to be awake and at rest is incredibly important for stress relief and wellness.
If you fall asleep in savasana once in a while, good news, you are a human being. If you always fall asleep in savasana, you are likely experiencing some sleep issues that you could investigate more deeply. Healthy sleep hygiene is very important.
3. Yoga nidra
Now we're really going to test Joey's brain! Enter yoga nidra. What is yoga nidra? It is yogic sleep. Cool huh?
In yoga nidra, a teacher leads his or her students through a very specific script that says things like, "Feel your left toe. Release your left toe." You are often asked in yoga nidra class to set a sankalpa, or a promise to yourself, and to call upon a deep desire that you have. It is believed that you can enter a state in between consciousness and unconsciousness where those desires can be manifested.
You know that feeling you have when you are about to fall asleep and you have weird thoughts, like your brain is just freestyling and attaching random ideas together? Some might call this dozing. You are in between awake and asleep. That's where yoga nidra takes you with the intention of keeping you there for a set amount of time. It is believed that in that middle space, your brain can do some pretty tremendous and magical things.
Scripts in yoga nidra classes are very specific and you will listen to your teacher's voice for most of the class. You can also find yoga nidra scripts online.
Yoga nidra is very similar to restorative yoga in that you will likely be in a reclined and supported position. However, in a restorative class, most of the class is held in silence with very little external stimulation. In a yoga nidra class, the teacher is speaking and guiding you through the script the entire time.
4. restorative yoga
Restorative yoga involves the practice of using props to create complete support for your body. In a restorative class, you'll typically move through only about four or five poses and you'll use bolsters, blocks, and blankets. Once in a pose, you'll stay there for about five or ten minutes, just being. This activates your relaxation response so that you can find a state of calm. Restorative yoga is wonderful for stress relief and healing.
The same concepts around savasana apply here, and savasana is absolutely a restorative pose. However, there are many restorative poses other than savasana. Legs up the wall is another example of a restorative pose.
While the focus in restorative poses is on letting go and finding that still space inside of you where you can soften and surrender, these poses also work on the body too. For example, in a restorative backbend, you are completely supported but you are also gently opening the spine.
Just as in savasana, you might doze off in a restorative class, but ideally, you will stay awake. Learning how to be awake and relaxed is very important.
Does it seem silly that I'm describing sleep? I'm not so sure. When I hear people talk about sleep, it seems like many of us have forgotten what it is. Sleep is the time when our bodies and minds recharge. Sleep restores us. Scientists are doing all sorts of interesting research about what happens when we sleep, but they seem to all agree that the brain is busy taking care of important business while we are at rest. If your sleep isn't restoring you on most nights, consider doing some research on sleep hygiene. Personally, if I don't sleep well, everything else is so much harder. I value my sleep.
In the previous four practices listed, remember that ideally you aren't falling asleep. If you doze off once in a while, no big deal. If you are consistently exhausted every time you stop running around and doing things, you're body is trying to tell you something (that it's completely exhausted) and it's time to take a look at your nighttime sleep.
Fun fact: as part of my recovery from a mild traumatic brain injury, my concussion specialist had a lot of strategies for me, but she really emphasized that a full night of sleep was the most important thing. I believe this is true for people recovering from injuries and illnesses, but also for all of us experiencing daily stress.
Still have questions? Ask away!
Thanks for reading. I hope this helped to answer some of your questions. Namaste friends, Karen