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.

Diary of a Lazy Ashtangi – Week 4.

Eyes on me during yoga practice

In 1989, the New York Times describes how the protected Bengal Tigers in the Ganges Delta regularly used to kill people. Someone came up with the idea of wearing a human mask on the back of the head. It was explained that many species use a similar technique to fool predators. Butterflies, beetles and caterpillars have patterns that look like big eyes in order to deter their enemies. It appeared that no one wearing a mask was ever attacked anymore. The tigers must have felt being watched…

Source: New York Times

Sunday 2 October – 9.30 am (feels like 8.30 am)
Friday at dinner, I told Stefano how much I actually like it when he is around while I practice, how it makes me feel “monitored”, even if he is not watching at all. A few minutes later, he asked me if my scanner and printer does full colour without explaining that totally off-topic question. After dinner, he got out his colouring pencils, started drawing, went to the scanner, got scissors out and 30 minutes later, there were pairs of eyes stuck all over the living room, a.k.a. my practice space. Proud of his artwork, he said “Now when you practice, you will feel eyes on you all the time.”

I bet you this is the most creative form of support any yoga practitioners has ever had. How much can you love a man?!

So today, even though yesterday we had a heavy dinner with wine, a late night watching several House of Cards episodes and slept an hour less due to daylight savings, my practice feels great.

Is it because it’s the day after New Moon, when energy blossoms again? Is it because for the first time since I got back I don’t need to turn on the heater and the sun is shining outside? Or is it because a dozen pair of eyes are looking at me from all corners of the room?

Monday 3 October – 9.30 am
The start of today’s practice is pretty good, after a nice sleep-in on this Public Holiday. After all, I know I am being watched. But as soon as I get to Trikonasana, I stop. I hate to admit it, but I think I have got a new injury.

For a couple of weeks now, I have pretended it was nothing. But the frozen shoulder is still fresh in my memory. I chose to ignore a little pinch in my shoulder after falling off my scooter and four months later I couldn’t even scratch the back of my head or shave my left armpit anymore. It took me over a year of rehabilitation to get to the level I am at now, which is almost back to my pre-injury flexibility and strength.

I decide not to go down that road again when I feel my body’s alarm bells go off in Trikonasana. I feel a strain in my left leg when I flex and externally rotate my hip with a extended knee. It’s most sensitive in Trikonasana A and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana but I also feel it in forward bends. I palpate my bum, my thigh, my sitting bone but can’t figure out which muscle is giving me grief.

I stop my practice and get behind my laptop for research. After a while, I conclude it could be one of the adductors or perhaps one of the external rotators. Rest is recommended, so I shall do that and look for treatment. Any recommendations?

Tuesday 4 October 2016
The wind is blowing hard outside, I can hear the rain slapping against the house and it’s cold. Maybe I’ll do some gentle muscle strengtheners later for this bloody muscle injury, but for now, I’m staying in bed for an extra hour.

Wednesday 5 October 2016
No early morning practice today, firstly because of my leg that is still giving me grief and second because I’m off to do a gentle Hatha class after teaching a beginners Ashtanga class. Life of a yoga teacher… 😉

Thursday 6 October 2016
I decide to give my leg more rest. Obviously continuing with my Ashtanga practice for the past two weeks did not improve the situation. I need to adapt my tactic so again no practice today. That in itself is not much of a game changer but the fact that I do not feel guilty about it is.

I do have to teach an Ashtanga class and a Vinyasa class today though. The first one doesn’t worry me, it’s a lead class for students that are already familiar with the first part of the Primary Series so I don’t need to demonstrate. The Vinyasa class however, might be tricky. I will just need to be very careful and be creative with sides when I demonstrate.

Friday 7 October 2016
Going to a restorative yoga class today. I can’t think of anything that my body could better use than that!

Saturday 8 October 2016
No practice of course and my leg seems a little less sore today… but I do end up working in the garden for the entire afternoon after teaching two Vinyasa classes in the morning.  Let’s see how I feel tomorrow morning!