“By remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax. This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master." Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar
Sava means corpse and asana means pose. It is called corpse pose not only because of the position of the body, but also in its ability to prepare you for the ultimate relaxation: death. It is the most important pose as it allows the body time to process the information and benefits received from the poses (asanas) and the breathing exercises (pranayama). But the benefits of savasana are much more than just physical – a few of these benefits include a decrease in blood pressure, muscle tension, anxiety levels and an increase in concentration, energy levels and memory power.
When you first start practicing savasana, it can be a struggle to relax in the pose and you may lie there feeling tense and staring at the ceiling. Relaxation doesn't happen on demand. Or, like some students, you might fall asleep the moment you lie down (and who hasn’t heard snoring during the pose?) The idea of savasana is to relax while staying present. Doing so allows the mental chatter to settle, bringing your awareness into your highest state of consciousness. As you go deeper, you can begin to release the tangled knots of patterns (samskaras), emotions, and ideas that unconsciously guide your life. It’s a difficult reality to wrap your brain around, but very freeing when you do. In this way, savasana at its core is a meditation.
Tips for a successful savasana:
- Prepare your body. Savasana usually occurs at the end of your yoga practice so the body is warm, the muscles have worked and there’s no need to fidget.
- Get comfortable. Put on a jumper and/or a pair of socks. Ensure there’s enough space to spread out. Use props like a bolster under the knees or an eye pillow to block out light if necessary.
- Tense to relax. Engage all your muscles one last time before releasing into savasana. One way to do this is to curl into the smallest, tightest ball possible before letting yourself be heavy into the mat. Another way is to take one last cleansing breath - the audible exhale will signal your parasympathetic nervous system to release into the pose.
- Let go of your practice. Think back to your intention (sankalpa) you set at the start of your practice. Be happy if you remembered the intention during your practice, and if you didn’t, well, let go. Then let go of the practice. Let go of everything that happened, everything that was or wasn’t. It’s gone, practice is over, and you have only this moment here and now.
- Do a body scan. Bring attention to each part of the body, consciously relaxing each part, starting with the head and traveling all the way down to your feet. Be on the lookout for tension hiding in the jaw, temples, shoulders, and hips because stress likes to accumulate in these areas. When you find tension, try to direct the breath into that part, relaxing a little more on each exhale.
- Notice. Quieting the mind in savasana is not necessarily about removing all your thoughts so that the mind is blank. Rather, use the breath to guide your focus and awareness and detach from the inevitable wave of thoughts that come and go. When thoughts pop up, notice them without judgement and let it go.