There is a sign along the road I pass daily that says “Don’t ignore the snore”. It’s quirky enough that I’ve noticed it over the last few months, though not knowing exactly what it’s advertising. This week it made me laugh, seeing it through the lens of a recent Yoga class.
During the summer on extraordinarily hot days, it’s hard to keep the studio at a cool 72 degrees. I’m in a lovely, historic building which is not well insulated, so the outside sometimes feels incredibly close, particularly on extremely hot and cold days. This week was no exception.
On sweltering summer days, I tend to move students through a slower class staying closer to the floor. The air to me feels thick and these days often make students even more relaxed by the end of class. I had such a day recently and during relaxation/meditation a few students fell deep asleep. Falling asleep during relaxation is not uncommon in my classes. I’m glad students can become that comfortable in a group setting. However, there are differing views on whether students should or should not sleep during relaxation/meditation.
During my teacher training in India I fell asleep frequently during the relaxation moments between poses. I was exhausted. It was hot. The perfect combination of circumstances. Some students fall asleep during relaxation because they are exhausted. This is common as our culture is sleep deprived and insomnia is pervasive. Other students always fall asleep when they are lying on their backs in stillness, regardless of whether they’re tired or not. Most often it is newer students that are prone to crash.
Some schools say that if a student falls asleep, they must need the rest. Others feel students should stay awake otherwise the benefits of being relaxed while alert are lost. I agree with both.
Sleep is an incredibly healing therapy and can be the best medicine for what ails us. On the other hand, acquiring the skill to be both comfortably relaxed and completely alert benefits our every day lives in infinite ways. Our default mechanism associates a relaxed state with sleep and an alert mind with tension. This shift towards being relaxed and alert is gained through a regular Yoga practice which includes relaxation/meditation – if you can stay awake for it :-).
Ignore the snore?
Of equal importance is how the sounds of sleep (or any sounds) affect others in class. I tend to agree with the opinion that any distraction – whether it’s the sound of a bus going by, a siren, coughing, labored breathing, or snoring – are all tools for Yogis to practice strengthening their ‘letting-go’ muscles. (This does not mean that cellphones can be left on during class as unplugging is also a healthy letting-go practice.)
When I did a 5-day meditation retreat at Kripalu, during one of our sessions there were sounds of voices and a vacuum cleaner just outside the door. At the end of the meditation, our instructor brought up these sounds. He said that he had been annoyed by them at first but then realized they were valuable teaching tools. How easy it is to relax when we are surrounded by gentle sounds of birds chirping, waves on the shore, or bubbling brooks. These sounds easily facilitate the relaxation process and have their place in healing. But the real work and the next level is learning to relax around every day, or even disrupting sounds as this is the true background music of our lives. Yoga as a therapy becomes more practical if it teaches us skills that we can translate into better handling and coping with life’s messiness.
So maybe it’s not so much about whether to ignore distractions, but instead to be with what is, while simultaneously connecting to the ever-present, deep inner sense of calm, always awaiting our attention.