I used to pretend to have the answer to this commonly-asked yoga student question.
Here’s how it went:
A student came up to me after a nice, juicy gentle practice that included several long restorative poses. She gushed about how peaceful and calm she felt after the practice.
“I love the restorative poses,” she said. Then she added, in a whisper, “But I can’t help falling asleep. Is that okay?”
I smiled and nodded knowingly, as a wise yoga teacher should, and told her that savasana is different than sleep. To keep herself mindful and awake, I suggested she focus more intently on her breath.
I wasn’t intentionally misleading her. I believed my answer wholeheartedly at the time, because that’s what I’d been told by my teachers.
But could I actually follow my own advice?
With three kids, a business, and work hours that regularly kept me in front of my computer till 2am?
A 5-minute savasana was totally doable; I was present, still, mindful, awake.
When the duration crept up to 7-10 minutes, it was a toss-up; I might do one of those savasana arm twitches that gave me away to the teacher, but I could usually play it off like I just had an urgent (and twitchy) need to adjust my hand position.
But man, when the teacher went yoga nidra on me, it was over. Guaranteed, I’d be doing the twitch AND that weird sleepy exhale “HAAAA” sound that was tough to disguise.
I hated that feeling. Not the sleepy, relaxed goodness which was wonderful and clearly much-needed.
I hated the fear of getting too relaxed, as if there is such a thing.
My approach to long, deep relaxation in group classes was completely counterproductive. Worried I’d be exposed as a negligent savasana practitioner, I’d keep my mind on high alert. Sometimes it worked, but other times I still woke myself with an errant arm banging on the bamboo floor (followed by some pretend arm position adjustments to play it cool).
You’ve probably already figured out that yoga practice makes a lot of things better. Yoga can soothe everyday aches and pains, help you feel stronger and more alive, give you a feeling of peace and calm unlike anything else you experience in your day. But it can’t solve all your physical, mental, or emotional woes.
If you’re not getting enough sleep, I’ve got news for you. You WILL fall asleep in restorative poses (if you’re really going for it rather than taking the high alert approach I was attempting).
So what’s my new answer?
When a student from my Gentle class asked about the savasana/sleep issue this week, I told her it’s okay, and it still happens to me, too. The way I figure, with my third child approaching 18 months, I have a lot of catching up to do.
You’re not a savasana failure when you fall asleep. You could probably just use a little more sleep and rest.
What’s the difference between sleep and rest?
Sleep is that thing that happens at bedtime, while rest is the conscious and mindful practice of relaxing body and mind. They’re different, but both are essential for total, vibrant health and exquisiteness.
Conscious rest is the companion practice to good sleep hygiene, and it belongs in everyone’s day, in my opinion. It’s different than watching TV, browsing Facebook updates, and even reading. It’s doing nothing, with intentionality.
These days I’m sleeping more (8 hours is my sweet spot), I’ve stopped working into the wee hours of the night, and I feel better than ever. I’m doing less, but enjoying it more. I’m allowing more time to get things done and giving myself a break where I used to be so demanding.
And yet still, still, I find myself waking up from restorative poses.
I don’t know how long it’ll take to get enough sleep and rest in the bank to make up for my sleep deficit. But it’s logical to assume that the longer the deficit has been in effect (ahem – I have a 10 year old, too), the longer it takes to make it up.
Restorative yoga practice has become the handiest little barometer for tracking my sleep/rest progress. It’s an embodied reminder that rest is important, and that slowing down has value (and is far from laziness or indulgence).
Judging from the fact that I managed to conk out in a restorative twist in under five minutes the other day, I still have a lot of work to do. But when your definition of work includes making an easy-chair out of bolsters, blankets, and blocks and then tucking yourself in for a nice rest, I can get behind that.
And in the meantime, I’ll be banking those minutes of restorative yoga sleep. And it’s okay.