Though this pose may seem as simple as taking a nap, those who can’t seem to find comfort in this asana know it’s far from easy.
In one of the more well-known scriptures describing yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the 15th century, Savasana is described as follows: “With this asana, tiredness caused by other asanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of the mind.”
Leslie Kaminoff writes in his book from 2012: “Savasana is said to be the easiest asana to perform but the hardest to master.”
Savasana, which means corpse pose is also known as Mrtasana (dead man’s pose). It is practice as the end of every asana practice and in some yoga styles, also in between (certain) asanas.
As Mark Stephens writes, it “is the ultimate asana for reintegration after practicing other asanas and pranayama. Leslie Kaminoff makes clear what the challenge is: “… the challenge of maintaining awareness without effort or exertion is perhaps the most revealing exploration of body-mind integration we can engage in.”
It is the pose during which we integrate the benefits of the yoga practice at many levels: physically, mentally and spiritually.
First of all, in this pose the body can fully relax as all tension ebbs away, resting from the physical effort of the asanas. By consciously relaxing without falling asleep and breathing effortlessly, the body can truly restore. Other beneficial side-effects are stress reduction, lower blood pressure, relief of headaches and better sleep.
Are you having trouble mentally relaxing? Consider Savasana the best way to practice relaxation. Just like any other skill, relaxing can be learned. By lying still and minimising external distractions and sensory stimulation, you can increase body awareness and interoception, the sense of the internal state of the body. This induces calmness and focus and can even decrease signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression or increase creativity and focus.
As a spiritual practice Savasana is an excellent pose to practice Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga and the first level of meditation: withdrawal of the senses. Close your eyes, squeeze all the air out of your mouth and don’t let yourself be distracted by what you smell, hear or feel. The practice of being with yourself and channelling all the energy inward is not easy but very rewarding when you manage.
- Put on socks or extra layers if you expect you’ll get cold. It is important to stay warm. Have a blanket handy to cover your whole body if necessary.
- Lie down on your back.
- Spread your arms enough to be able to rest the back of the hands on the mat/floor with the palms facing up, the arms not touching the torso.
- Allow the fingers to curl in their natural shape.
- Spread your legs as much as is comfortable for the buttocks, thighs, calf muscles and feet to relax, the legs and feet not touching each other.
- The body does not have to be positioned symmetrically, although with practice, you probably will find neutral alignment more comfortable as your body awareness increases.
- Let the full weight of your body relax onto the mat, allowing for the natural curves of the neck, spine, arms and legs.
- Once completely comfortable, take a big breath in and exhale with a deep sigh to signal your nervous system that it’s time to relax.
- Allow the breath to flow naturally.
- Stay fully aware of the deep state of relaxation you are in, scanning the body for pockets of tension that are possibly remaining or forming.
- Keep practicing the art of letting go for at least five minutes, preferably 10 or even 20 if you have the time!
- Come out of the pose very slowly, awakening your senses first and taking a few deep breaths before you move. Stretch and bend like a cat before sitting up.
- Keep your eyes closed and mindfully come to sitting, enjoying the inner stillness for a little longer before getting off your mat.
* If you have lower back issues, it is helpful to put a rolled-up blanket or a bolster under your knees, making sure that the heels rest on the floor.
* If you are very tense in the upper back and find it uncomfortable to rest the back of the head on the floor, you can place a blanket underneath your head. It is important, however, that the throat remains open for the breath to flow smoothly, so take care not to tilt the chin down too much.
* An eye pillow is a wonderful way to help rest the eyes. Especially people who (often without realising it) remain with their eyes open can benefit from this. If this causes discomfort or stress, such as induced by claustrophobia, it is of course not advisable to use one.
* Another beautiful way to induce deep rest, is to place a folded blanket or a sandbag across your lower belly. This puts gentle pressure on the area that is our centre of gravity when we are standing (the sacrum) and helps with the grounding and letting go.
* If the body is relaxed, but the mind is racing, it can be helpful to repeat a mantra (e.g. I am fully relaxed) or to count the breaths.
Anyone can do savasana with the exception of pregnant women, particularly from their second trimester onwards. Lying down on the back (or on the right side) can cause Vena Cava compression. The pressure on the vein can prevent blood from returning to the heart, decreasing the mother’s and baby’s oxygen supply.
The best alternative for expecting mothers is to lie on their left side, with a block or blanket under their head, a blanket in between their legs and any other support they need to comfortably relax in this position.
It’s all in the practice
Remember, just like any other challenging asana, savasana is a pose that requires plenty of practice. It is not easy to master the art of balancing between full awareness and complete surrender.