The first time I attended a yoga class, I was surprised when after stretching and strengthening our bodies through a challenging practice, the teacher encouraged us to lie down, close our eyes, and relax our bodies. Lie down and relax? No one had ever told me to do such a thing! I would imagine I’m not the only one who has had such an experience.
Savasana means “corpse pose”. It is the last pose we do at the end of a yoga practice. During savasana, we lie down on our mats. Our bodies rest in complete stillness. We quiet our minds. Savasana is not a time for sleeping. We rest in relaxed awareness.
We always take savasana at the end of a yoga practice. As we consciously relax our bodies, muscular tension is reduced. It also decreases our heart rate and blood pressure. Practicing savasana allows for any neuromuscular changes to be integrated.
In addition to its physical benefits, savasana is a boon for our minds. Savasana’s stillness lowers our anxiety levels. The deep rest we receive when practicing savasana can help regulate our mood. During savasana, we may notice our minds begin to wander. As we continuously bring our minds back to our savasana practice, we train ourselves to focus, concentrate, and remain present.
Our asana practice nourishes us on a physical and psychological level. However, where it really shines is the work it does for our energetic -or pranic– body. Our body is more than just that which we can see: skin, bones, blood, tissues. We are also composed of an energetic anatomy that we cannot see. This includes things like the kosha and chakra system. Although we may not be able to see our energy-body, we have deeply felt it. We experience our energy-body when we have an upset stomach before giving a presentation, our chest hurts upon receiving bad news, or when we rest our heads in our hands because we are thinking so hard.
During our personal practice, many of us find ourselves shortening our savasana -or skipping it all together! There are many reasons why we do this. First of all, it is important for us to be as comfortable as possible during savasana. If we cannot make ourselves comfortable, we will not be able to rest. Remember, savasana, too, is a yoga asana. Like any other asana, when we cannot find the delicate balance between being challenged and over-doing, props may be helpful. Blankets, bolsters, and eye-pillows are fantastic props for savasana.
Once we are able to physically comfortable, we can begin to rest our minds. Ours is not a society that appreciates simply being. To engage in a practice of lying down and doing nothing is truly counter-cultural. Our minds resist savasana’s stillness and are at the ready with a host of distractions that take us away from our practice. Some of us experience tremendous anxiety when we are not “doing” anything. Others get bored. Still others are so identified with being busy, that they believe that what they do is who they are. Thus, to stop doing and start being makes them feel like they have lost their identity. In a sense, they would be correct. When we realize we are not the things we do, we experience a sort of death. This is the death of the small, disconnected self, also known as the ego. Yoga begins when we no longer identify the truth of who we are with the ego, and realize we must be something else.
Savasana is the most important pose we do in yoga. Like all asanas, savasana benefits us physically, mentally, and energetically. However, it has the additional benefit of preparing us for death.
We live in a that culture removes itself from death. When we die, we tend to die in hospitals and nursing facilities. Thanks to the hospice movement, more of us are dying at home with the assistance of skilled, specialized nurses. Until we are the ones dying, we are not part of the dying process. Likewise, after our loved ones pass, we are not part of the process of preparing their bodies for however they will take their final rest.
We don’t know how to die. It may seem morbid in a death avoidant culture such as ours, but if we want to die well, it takes practice. None of us know when or where we will die, just like none of us know what challenges our yoga teacher is going to offer us during our practice. We just know that in the end there is peace. When a skilled yoga teacher methodically cues us in savasana, we are consciously learning to relax our bodies in such a way that we rest in death-like stillness.
Naturally, our minds resist this. After all, we are still alive! Our minds work very hard to keep thinking. Thinking is what minds do. That is what they are for. However, we can use our higher mind to direct our thoughts. At first, perhaps to our breath or a mantra. Like our bodies, as we settle our minds, we are truly able to rest in peace.
- Lie down on the ground with your arms and legs extended. Make yourself comfortable. Take care that you are warm enough. Use socks, sweaters, and blankets as needed. You may find it more comfortable to rest your knees over a bolster. If you don’t have a bolster, you can rest your feet on the seat of a chair.
- Close your eyes. You might like to use an eye-pillow.
- Mentally scan your body. Consciously relax each part of your body. Begin with your toes and work your way to the top of your head. You might even find it helpful to tense and then relax each body part.
- Rest in savasana for at least ten minutes. More is fine if you have the time, but do not do less. Remember, this is where your asana practice is integrated. Skipping out on savasana will leave you feeling energetically in a funk for the rest of the day. You need this time to feel balanced and enjoy all of the benefits the work you did in your asana practice has to offer!