In this "Elements of Yoga" column, we'll provide an introductory explanation of the purpose and many benefits of the unique and commonly final pose of each asana sequence: savasana. Savasana, or corpse pose, is a pose of conscious (awake) relaxation. It is widely considered one of the most challenging yoga poses, especially for beginners. This is not because it is difficult to physically assume the position, but rather because it can be very challenging for people in today's world to achieve and sustain the intention of the pose which is relaxation. Savasana is typically held for as few as five minutes and sometimes for longer than 10 minutes, depending on the length and level of the class (n.b., savasana is often held longer in more advanced classes of greater duration).
There are several variations of the pose, most commonly lying on one's back with body extended from the crown of head to the feet, the spine in its natural extension, the legs and arms resting comfortably away from the body's midline with the feet flopped open and the palms facing upward, the back of the head on the mat (or a prop), and the chin slightly tucked. Regardless of the variation of the pose and whether or not props are used, the first phase of coming into savasana is to assume a position in which one can rest their entire physical body, muscles and bones relaxing into the ground.
Once the physical body is relaxed, the second phase is to relax the senses. During this phase, yoga instructors often give verbal cues promoting students to exert less energy and attention on their outward experience, prompting them to turn inward. Examples of this might include gently closing or covering the eyes, or relaxing the tongue away from the teeth and the roof of the mouth.
The challenge of savasana often comes in the third phase, in which we aim to relax our mind. We cease all physical and mental effort, as we surrender to relaxation. While we aim to stay awake in savasana, it is not unusual for some people to fall asleep. As a population, we're exhausted and we hardly ever take time to rest! If you've been to more than a few yoga classes, you've probably experienced that moment when someone in class begins to snore. Depending on how still you were in your own savasana perhaps you found it to be amusing, disruptive, embarrassing (if, per chance, you were the one snoring), or maybe you barely noticed it at all? The latter could be considered a sign of a well-tuned savasana, in which one can comfortably choose not to be affected by conditions, such as sounds, within their surroundings.
Individuals may find their minds wandering during savasana: recalling conversations or memories, mentally reviewing task lists, creating grocery lists, wondering if they're doing savasana correctly, wondering what they should be doing or feeling, or even counting the seconds until the instructor releases them from the mental anguish of stillness. It's important for students to know that it is perfectly normal for thoughts to arise during savasana. The "work", if we can call it that, is to release the thoughts to pass by not focusing on them. And, just like the more we practice tree pose the more we progress within it finding more strength, flexibility and balance, the more we practice savasana the more we progress within it finding physical and mental relaxation.
The benefits of savasana are numerous, and include:
In the mayhem of today's busy world of constant stimulation and much stress, we invite you to spend time on your mat exploring many poses, understanding that one of the most beneficial poses is savasana, as it promotes lasting calmness, inner ease and equanimity. Who doesn't need more of that?!