Being still, quiet and vulnerable is NOT easy. Stationary meditation can be a very emotional and challenging experience especially if you're naturally high-strung, new to yoga or aren't sure exactly what to do. You might experience stress, shortness of breath, racing thoughts, anxiety and/or chest tightness during savasana. The more you practice savasana in a negative light, the more the stress can manifest.
"Thought alone can facilitate the secretion of hormones and chemicals into the bloodstream that provoke a mental or physical reaction. The heart rate may rise, blood pressure become elevated, (hypertension), stomach may secrete acid, the muscles may tighten, etc... So within this corpse pose there is a practice happening..." - Bryan KestBut "meditation helps with anxiety," right? So why are some experiencing anxiety FROM meditation? The answer is that the anxiety is often aggravated because we're so unaccustomed to living in the present moment that when that's all we have (no other distractions), our subconscious freaks out. This, in turn, can elevate the heart rate and cause panic attack symptoms. It's not that the anxiety is non-existant when we're not meditating, but that anxiety is just often easier to repress or ignore in daily life. When we meditate, we're at our most vulnerable to emotion, so our subconscious fear of facing the anxiety triggers the "fight or flight" response in our body. This is why most savasana-haters can still feel peaceful during their whole yoga practice, but not once the body settles to stillness. The mind has no escape.
It may be difficult to open up about savasana anxiety because many other yogis experience such relaxation and restoration from savasana. Don't let their post-savasana bliss get you down...all you need to do is come at your anxious feelings from a different angle to work toward that awesome savasana you've always wanted.
1) Start with other types of meditation. The most helpful tip I know of is to start a regular practice with other types of meditation outside of your yoga.
A) Mantra meditation is an easy way to customize your practice for whatever you need that day. Just one word or phrase repeated in your head or outloud can be a powerful way to start creating new pathways in your mind and body.
B) Guided meditation is also often helpful because your mind is staying active focusing on the words, rather than trying to be totally quiet.
C) Walking meditation is a great option because it's another type of gentle movement meditation (in the same way that yoga asana practice is a movement meditation). But unlike yoga in the studio, you are alone in nature, there is less stimulation, no instructor and less direction. You might even choose to sit quietly during your walk, observing nature. It's a great step toward being okay with yourself.
D) Mandala meditation is just the act of coloring in a mandala. There are no other specific instructions for this one, it's just meant to be a relaxing, creative and quiet activity. Some of my more anxious students have had great luck with mandala meditation.2) Try a different savasana position. Please don't be shy about the position you choose for your meditation! If you only seem to experience anxiety lying down in savasana, try it on your side or seated. Maybe you feel self-conscious about doing something different when your teacher doesn't cue it, but remember that your instructor can only offer suggestions. He or she doesn't know what you need and it's YOUR practice. I'm sure that your yoga instructor would much rather see you enjoying a seated meditation than struggling through or leaving before savasana.
3) Focus on something else. The act of trying to focus on "the present" can be a little too subtle sometimes. It might help to open the eyes and focus on a drishti or "look" at the shapes behind your inner eyelids while keeping them closed. Focusing on a sound (such as the ticking of a clock) or counting may also help to get you out of your own head.
4) Allow and observe your thoughts. Once you begin to get comfortable with some form of mindfulness meditation, "observe" might be a helpful mantra. If you find you're experiencing discomfort, physically during yoga or mentally during savasana, notice it, allow it and move on. Thoughts cannot ever be stopped completely, but you must allow yourself to surrender to that fact.
A helpful metaphor I like to use for meditation is to picture your thoughts as clouds in a sky or fish in the ocean. They come in, you observe them, they float away. Each one, one at a time.
5) Pay attention to your diet. Nobody wants to hear a self-righteous yogi on a high-horse lamenting the dangers of caffeine and sugar, but it's something to consider. Caffeine and sugar (even natural sugars from fruit) are both adrenal suppressants and since the adrenal gland is responsible for the secretion of stress hormones...I'm just saying. (Here's a great explanation of the relationship between these foods and your body.)
6) Do. Not. Give. Up. Whatever you do, please don't give up. The fact that you're struggling with mindfulness meditation is your body telling you that there is an underlying issue or something you need to work through. Savasana is important and it is beneficial, but if you never face your anxiety to work toward that place of safety and comfort with your own mind, you can expect your stress level to stay the same or elevate.
One way or another, it's important to remember that you're always practicing something. If savasana in the traditional sense doesn't work for you right now, that's okay. Come at it from a different angle to trick your subconscious into loving it. :) Namaste