Everybody’s Favourite Asana: savasana

Are you a Savasana-fan or Savasana-hater? (Feel free to reply in the comment section below for a little totally non-scientific survey.)

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.

What is this pose is all about?

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika from the 15th century is one of the most revered scriptures about yoga. It describes Savasana as follows: “With this asana, tiredness caused by other asanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of the mind.”

And Leslie Kaminoff writes in his book from 2012: “Savasana is said to be the easiest asana to perform but the hardest to master.” 

Savasana in uggboots  

Savasana, which means corpse pose is also known as Mrtasana (dead mans’s pose). It is done at the end of every asana practice. In some yoga styles, it is also practiced in between (certain) asanas. Sometimes even between standing asanas, like in Sivananda.

As Mark Stephens writes, it “is the ultimate asana for reintegration after practicing other asanas and pranayama.”  Leslie Kaminoff explains why it can be difficult: “… the challenge of maintaining awareness without effort or exertion is perhaps the most revealing exploration of body-mind integration we can engage in.”

Benefits of Savasana:

It is the pose during which we integrate the benefits of the yoga practice at many levels: physically, mentally and spiritually.

Physical benefits

First of all, in this pose the body can fully relax. 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 known beneficial effects are stress reduction, lower blood pressure, relief of headaches and better sleep.

Mental benefits

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. Interoception is 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.

Spiritual benefits

As a spiritual practice, Savasana is an excellent pose to practice Pratyahara. The fifth limb of yoga and the first level of meditation is the practice of 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.

The Pose:

  • 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 without tension in the shoulders, 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 (as far as you body allows it) more comfortable as your body awareness increases.
  • Let the full weight of your body relax onto the mat, allowing for a natural curve in 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 for 10 or even 20 if you have the time!

Coming out of Savasana:

  • Come out of the pose very slowly, awakening your senses first and taking a few deep breaths before you move.
  • Make small movements first and if you feel like it, stretch and bend like a cat before rolling onto your right side. This stimulates breathing through the left nostril/ida nadi and helps keeping you in that beautiful zen state).
  • Keep your eyes closed and mindfully come to sitting. Enjoying the inner stillness for a little longer before closing your practice and getting off your mat.

Savasana with lower back support

Adjustments:

  • If you have lower back issues, a rolled-up blanket or a bolster under your knees is helpful. Make sure that your heels rest on the floor. If this isn’t enough, you can consider placing your feet on the floor mat-width distance apart. You can drop the knees inwards to lean against each other. Tipi Pose a.k.a. Constructive Rest is a great lie-down too.
  • If you are very tense in the upper back and find the throat, neck, shoulders or chest are strained without support, you can place a blanket underneath your head. The throat however, should remains open for the breath to flow smoothly. In other words, take care not 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. Unless of course, this causes discomfort or stress, such as induced by claustrophobia.
  • Also a beautiful way to induce deep rest, is to place a folded blanket or a sandbag across your lower belly. This puts gentle releasing pressure on the area that is our centre of gravity when we are standing (the sacrum). The weight 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.

Savasana with props

Contraindications:

* Anyone can do Savasana with the exception of pregnant women, particularly from the late 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. You can place a block or blanket under your head, a blanket in between the thighs and any other support you need to be as ease.
* If you have low blood pressure, it is also recommended you come out of Savasana by turning onto your left side, in order to avoid compressing the vena cava. 

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.