Monday, December 27, 2010

Questions on Restorative Yoga Teaching Technique

I have received a number of emails asking questions about how I run my class and other technique related questions. I want to start sharing these emails so other folks can benefit from the conversations too. Below is an email from Melinda, wondering about how much talking do I do and what to do about students who fall asleep. I've expanded on my answer a little at the end of the post.

Hi Sara,

I just discovered your site and will be spending a great deal of time there I’m sure!  I teach a weekly yoga class, mostly Iyengar-style, although I have started adding in Yin yoga and occasionally some restorative poses.  I’d like to do an entire restorative class towards the end of my session (just before Christmas) but am unsure about all of the silence.  I’ve noticed that, although my students like a longer savasana (10-15 minutes), many of them doze off – which I believe is a comment on our culture more than anything else.  Anyway, I think 90 minutes of restorative postures would present a huge mental challenge – staying awake.  On the other hand, I think too much chatter (by me) would be disruptive.   How much instruction/information/teaching do you do once your students are in the pose?

Thank you, Melinda

Hi Melinda -

I’m glad you found my website. I’d like to post your question and my answer on my blog as a new post if you don’t mind. Lots of people have asked me this question so I think I should put a post up. I think we all have a hard time being quiet – even us, the teachers (especially us?). We want to keep explaining, help our students get everything just right. But really we need to let them settle into the quiet of the pose and experience the kind of relaxation that comes from “not doing.” If they fall asleep....well, I guess they are tired. Of course some people are the lucky kind who fall asleep the instant their head hits the pillow so for restorative, their challenge might be to keep more awareness of breath and try to keep their mind from turning off.

My class is 75 minutes. The first 15 I do welcome, announcements, short talk on  being comfortable and asking for help, demo the poses and then a tiny warm up and centering. The next hour we do 6 poses including Savasana. Each pose gets 10 minutes which includes set up, settling in and coming out.  I do talk some – I like to settle people in to each pose by talking them back into relaxation – but I try to be quiet for most of the pose. I give a reminder at the 1/2 way point to move the body or the head if they have become uncomfortable or if the person is in a twist or something that requires balance on both sides. I like to play an Om CD or Shamanic Dream with the heart beat rhythm. Sometimes I play the gong or the crystal bowl at the end for Savasana.

I’ll think about this some more and try to come up with a more coherent answer and put it up on my blog. I’ve got a busy week though so it might not be right away. Thanks for writing and best of luck on your class. I’m sure your students will love it.


I just taught two different restorative classes over the past week: one for teachers in training and one for my regular students. I tried to observe how much talking I did to the students in each of these classes so I'd have a more definite answer.

What I noticed was that with the teacher trainers I talked quite a bit more. I was thinking of their class more as a training session - which it was. I wanted to impart as much knowledge in the 4 hours I was with them as possible.

With my regular class I was pretty quiet this time. Just about everyone who attended has been to my class before so they know the ropes and don't need a lot of instruction. But I do still talk them down into each pose, settling them into relaxation. I tell them the 1/2 way point so they take the pose on both sides of their body.  And I talk them up each time by inviting them to take 5 smooth, deep breaths and then carefully exit the pose. I remind them to be mindful and quiet as they transition from pose to pose. And I remind them to ask me if they can't quite get comfortable.

That sounds like it wouldn't leave a lot of time for quiet but it does. I think quiet time in restorative is as important or even more important than instruction time.

Please feel free to email me with your questions or comments on your experience and I'd be happy to answer and share more here.

Happy Solstice!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Relaxation vs. Meditation

I'm often wondering how to describe the difference is between meditation and relaxation. In this short article (below) from Yoga Journal, Frank Jude Boccio gives a few key points in defining what is the same and what is different between relaxation and meditation.

Relaxation vs. Meditation

by  Frank Jude Boccio

We often think of watching TV, sitting down with a cocktail or a good book, or simply vegging out as relaxing. But true relaxation is something that is practiced and cultivated; it is defined by the stimulation of the relaxation response. Some forms of conscious relaxation may become meditation, and many meditators find that their practice benefits from using a relaxation technique to access an inner stillness helpful for meditating. But while relaxation is a secondary effect of some meditation, other forms of meditation are anything but relaxing. Ultimately, it all comes down to the intention and purpose of the technique.

All conscious relaxation techniques offer the practitioner a method for slowly relaxing all the major muscle groups in the body, with the goal being the stimulation of the relaxation response; deeper, slower breathing and other physiological changes help the practitioner to experience the whole body as relaxed. Techniques include autogenic training, the use of words suggesting heaviness and warmth in the limbs; progressive muscle relaxation, systematically bringing attention to various parts of the body to consciously release tension, then noticing the feelings of softness and ease that arise; body scanning, moving attention slowly through the body; and breathing, gradually extending the exhalations.

Meditation—generally presented in the three broad categories of concentration, mindfulness, and contemplation—are forms of mind training, operating on the fundamental premise that the mind determines the quality of your life. Meditation is about making friends with yourself, learning to see what is just as it is, and freeing yourself from reactive conditioning. This liberating aspect of meditation is conceptualized in varied ways, from purely psychological and secular to deeply spiritual and religious. For further information, you might want to check out Meditation and Relaxation in Plain English by Bob Sharples.
Frank Jude Boccio is a yoga teacher, Ayurveda practitioner, hypnotherapist, and the author of Mindfulness Yoga: The Awakened Union of Breath, Body, and Mind.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Pause on Purpose ~ Winter Reflection Retreat 2011

Restorative Yoga, Lecture & Reflection, Meditation, Hiking, Sauna, Rest, Good Food, Community

24-hour January Reflection Retreat 2011
at beautiful Camp Amnicon,
just 30 minutes away from Duluth.
Pause on Purpose as the New Year begins. 
Take this opportunity to reflect on your life,
settle into your body,
quiet your mind
and cultivate contentment.

Led by Molly McManus and Sara Duke

Arrival: 6 pm  Fri, Jan 21st
Departure: 6 pm  Sat, Jan 22nd

$118 Before Jan 1st,
 $138 after Jan 1st

Call Yoga North at 722-9642 to register.

*Price includes Saturday meals,
yoga classes in postures and philosophy
and the use of Camp Amnicon facilities.

Makes an excellent holiday treat for 
yourself or a loved one.

Camp Amnicon: Located on 700 acres of the south shore of Lake Superior, along the Amnicon River. Enjoy the community space with a large fireplace, windows overlooking the river and forest, nature trails, and sauna. There will be opportunities for both community and solitude.

Sign up online or, for more details visit Yoga North, or call the office at 218-722-9642. Looking forward to seeing you there. Namaste. ~ Sara & Molly

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Need of Yoga Nidra

The practice of deep relaxation rejuvenates the mind and body and helps decrease cortisol levels in the body, leading to better health over all. Deep rest is different than sleep where the body's muscles may be engaged during dreaming, and it is different than relaxing with a book or by watching TV. I found the following article about Yoga Nidra, or Yogic Sleep in Yoga Journal.

In Need of Yoga Nidra

In today's busy world, yogic sleep may be the essential tool for rejuvenation.
By Stephanie Levin-Gervasi

I'm stretched out during my first 45-minute Yoga Nidra class, body cradled in a fully supported Savasana (Corpse Pose), limbs limp, breath quiet, thoughts drifting by. In the distance, the teacher's voice blends with the sound of Tibetan bells. All traces of the day fade away, time stops, and stillness washes over me. So this is Yoga Nidra!

Also known as yogic sleep or sleep with awareness, Yoga Nidra is an ancient practice that is rapidly gaining popularity in the West. It is intended to induce full-body relaxation and a deep meditative state of consciousness. "We live in a chronically exhausted, overstimulated world," says Los Angeles yoga teacher Rod Stryker. "Yoga Nidra is a systematic method of complete relaxation, holistically addressing our physiological, neurological, and subconscious needs."

During a typical class, teachers use a variety of techniques—including guided imagery and body scanning—to aid relaxation. And unlike a quick Savasana at the end of asana practice, Yoga Nidra allows enough time for practitioners to physiologically and psychologically sink into it—at least 20 to 45 minutes, says San Francisco Bay Area yoga teacher Jennifer Morrice.

The ancient yoga text the Mandukya Upanishads refers to four different stages of Yoga Nidra. The practitioner begins by quieting the overactive conscious mind, then moves into a meditative state, gradually finding a state of "ultimate harmony," in which the brain waves slow down and a subtle euphoria emerges. Though most practitioners don't slip easily into the more advanced stages, they still tend to emerge feeling rejuvenated. "Yoga Nidra uniquely unwinds the nervous system," Stryker says, "which is the foundation of the body's well-being."

Yoga Nidra is best done under the guidance of a trained teacher, but not to worry if a class hasn't arrived at your local studio. Teachers like Stryker, Shiva Rea, and Jnaneshvara Bharati, to name a few, now offer Yoga Nidra workshops and CDs; you can do a simple search for them online.

Sara's note: I have found a number of Yoga Nidra and Deep Relaxation CD's that I really like. Visit my resources page or start your own practice with the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

30 Day Challenge - Final Comments

I want to share a few final comments from the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge. I had my students fill out both a starting survey and an ending survey. Here's a few of the questions and answers from the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge Ending Survey.

1. Was it hard to find 10-15 minutes each day to relax? How did you get yourself in the relaxation habit? Describe your commitment level.

Not really hard to find time. I have an ongoing yoga and meditation practice. Difficult to calm the monkey mind.

Some days I would forget until I had reached a point of fatigue - and then remember. I felt I got the most out of it when I would purposely plan when to relax regardless of my energy.

Not hard to find time but difficult to remember to take the time. Scheduled "breaks" helped me stay committed.

Yes, very hard for me. I had to approach it like a task or a chore. I still feel like I should be "doing something" or accomplishing something.

I found it fairly easy to relax. I generally found it nice to relax in the evening before bed. I was not good at relaxing every day - but most.

I took small moments in the morning before getting out of bed to "cuddle" myself and not jump up into the day.

2. Did you notice any changes in your health, mindset/attitude or sleep pattern? What were they?

A bit more ease in challenging situations.

I slept better and more thoroughly. I felt more rested.

I am more focused after relaxing.

My biggest problem has been staying asleep and/or returning to sleep after waking in the night. With the breathing and muscle relaxation techniques I have been able to fall back asleep. Thank you!

I noticed the Deep Relaxation to be restorative in a time of great stress in my life. I started to pay attention to my body more instead of disconnect.

Yes! I liked myself more in that I felt more centered or balanced emotionally.

More present, more grateful, more at ease, more aware, desire to journal, spent extra time in quiet.

Attitude - easier to catch myself in negative patterns. Sleeping - more deep rest, more vivid and lucid dreams.

3. Did your energy change? How?

Yes. My energy decreased but I attribute this to fall and the increasing dark and cold.

Slightly improved. Able to make it through the day and maintain better over all.

Not that I noticed.

I don't seem to be as "on edge" so I think I had more calm energy.

Yes. I found I was more focus and not so scattered.

I think I have more energy in the morning. I reach for coffee less often.

4. What significant learning will you take away from the challenge?

Keep making space.

I really enjoy meditation!

Practice, practice, practice.

Stop and slow down. Even when you are anxious and agitated.

Need more gratitude, more self-acceptance, and to create more sacred time to do some long relaxing poses.

Breathing and posture techniques.

I really enjoyed setting a sankalpa and focusing on that through the practice.

More definite and deliberate use of breathing practices to quiet the mind and body. Use of sankalpa.

5. Did you have any negative experiences with the challenge?

I became more aware of some of my negative habits - but this is actually a positive thing.

At first it was almost agitating to keep on trying to focus on my breath.

Not really - just nagging doubts pushing me to do better.

No. None.

Guilt for forgetting to take time to relax.

Sometimes I was willful.

I found myself coming to class each week in various mindsets but I always left relaxed and fulfilled.

6. Will you continue any of the practices from the challenge? If so, which ones? If not, why?

Yes, breathing, awareness, making space, and the postures too.

Gratitude meditation, journal - as that is part of my sankalpa, breath work and meditation. I found that to be calming with a cumulative benefit.

Breathing, muscle relaxation, relaxation poses, and sankalpa.

Short 5 minute breaks at work and bedtime relaxation.

Restorative poses - they serve me well. Breath work is a lifelong tool I will always use.

Longer, quiet poses.

Yes, all. I'm planning to make myself a schedule of techniques & poses for my practice.

Breathing techniques, gratitude meditation, setting aside daily "me" time.

Breathing practice, restorative poses, sankalpa.

7. Would you recommend this challenge to a friend?

Yes, and I would do it again myself.


Yes, and to my enemy.


Oh yes.

Yes....duh! (smile face here).

8. Do you have a suggestion on how to improve this challenge? Or do you have any other comments that you would like to share?

I would like to have this class extended over the whole session, not just for 30 days. It was so nice to look forward to this every week.

I would like more clearly defined homework.

I missed 2 classes and I wish I didn't. I was so at peace here. I want more. Thank you.

Loved this class!

I will miss the class and Sara's instruction. I hope to attend more classes at Yoga North.

This is the least sweaty yoga class I have ever been to. Useful techniques that will be relevant for every day I have left.

Improvement - maybe add massage or energy work. I love all of your work, Sara. Thank you so much.

The slowing down was lovely. I'm learning the joy of just sitting and doing nothing/everything.

What about a journal focus or specific topic of reflection - but is that relaxation? I guess one focus thinking.

Loved the gonging and crystal bowl. I was hoping for more yoga nidra.

This challenge and my sankalpa have really helped me tune to my body and follow my own truth, especially in situations that were previously stressful.

Thank you all for your comments and for attending class. I really enjoyed teaching this class. Watch for a two hour, deep relaxation workshop coming up in April 2011.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

30 Day Challenge - Final Class

Congratulations! You have completed the 30 Day Deep Relaxation Challenge.

I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to teach this class. I enjoyed getting to know each of you and helping you find some space in your lives to let in a little bit more ease.

For our final class we found a comfortable forward folding position. Some picked Bound Angle, some picked Wide Angle, some picked Supported Dandasana, and some picked Legs-up-the-Wall. There were so many pose options because each person has gotten to know their own body so well over this month's experiment that each person chose a position that they knew their body could relax in. I loved that everyone has gotten to know their body well enough to find ease on your own. This is a huge accomplishment. Many people do not have the awareness to even notice that they are uncomfortable, much less the ability to make themselves comfortable.

Our breath practice was Nadi Shodhana, Alternate Nostril Breathing. We practiced this first with our hand to block one nostril and then the other as we breathed. During our deep relaxation, we did mental Nadi Shodhana. Robin Carnes offers this practice on her Yoga Nidra CD and I just love it. I find it deeply relaxing. I like imagining that I am breathing in from far, far away (like the tropics) and exhaling to somewhere else equally far away (like the arctic). This breath practice brings balance to the body's energy system. Try it out for your self with the audio file below.

Alternate Nostril Breathing: 2min38sec.

Best of luck with your continued relaxation. I look forward to seeing you all again soon.
Namaste. Sara