Taking a Pause: On and Off the Yoga Mat


If you’ve been in a yoga class, you may have heard your instructor say things like, “rest the body and the breath”, “feel the effects…”, or “observe what is” in-between active movements. So, why the pause in between exercises or during savasana at the end of a class? Why the pause at all?


Generally, you may think of it as ‘hang out, chill time’ and that is partly correct. It is definitely time to smell the yogic roses. In our busy lives, we are accustomed to running from place to place, doing activity after activity – we accustomed to living with stress and busy-ness. A yoga practice brings awareness to creating space for pause. Here are 3 important reasons why to take a pause:


1. Observe

After an active exercise or pranayama (breathing exercise), we allow ourselves time to come back to the natural flow of our breath and observe. Time to observe the sensations in the body. And, time to observe thoughts or feelings as they are, without changing or judging. Sometimes we jump in and identify with the thoughts, feelings, or sensations. When we notice this identification (ie: ‘I am not doing this right; I am irritated; I feel joint pain’), we bring our attention back to the sensation, feeling, or thought as it is without identification or analysis. It is not easy, but it is healthy for your brain-body connection – to observe your thoughts, labels, feelings, or emotions as they are. When we pause in between exercises, we are giving ourselves time to observe without judgment.

2. Rest

The body needs a rest, period. Sometimes, the rest times are deliberate and have a certain length. Sometimes, we can take a quick pause to take a rest. For example, after spinal twist in yoga – all 26 vertebrae are stimulated, the nervous system function is improved by aligning the spine and removing muscular tension, and cerebrospinal fluid circulation is improved. That is a lot! So, taking a rest afterward allows the body to catch up to what just happened.


3. Tap into the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The Sympathetic Nervous System is our ‘fight, flight, freeze, fawn’ response to stressors. Not only running from lions and tigers make us stressed. Our busy schedules and unhealthy thought patterns keep us feeling on edge, and many of us stay caught up in this response all day long. When we pause in between exercises in yoga class, we begin the process of turning on the Parasympathetic Nervous System instead, which aids our ability to ‘rest and digest’. Yoga teachers will remind you to inhale deeply and exhale after each exercise. Breathing deeply aids in tapping into the Parasympathetic Nervous System. While resting between exercises, the muscles also have a chance to relax, the heart rate slows down, and feelings of stress begin to melt away. The more Parasympathetic Nervous System training you give yourself on the mat, the more you can utilize your relaxation response in daily life off of the mat.


Even if you are an experienced practitioner, have a beginner’s mind every time you come to the mat. Every day is different. Every moment is different. Take some pauses for yourself. In yoga class or in everyday life. Tap into a slower pace for yourself. Your body, mind, spirit, and soul will thank you.



Stacey Bliss, PhD