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.

YouTube yoga, yes or no?

You are busy, juggling work, night-shifts, family, social life and hobbies. There is not enough time in the day and night combined to do everything you want. Like going to a yoga class. But perhaps you do manage to sneak in a YouTube practice at home every now and then.

If that is you, this blog is for you. 

YouTube Yoga Google search results

Online yoga lessons are becoming increasingly popular. Famous and non-famous yoga teachers appear on YouTube, the number of online memberships for yoga channels is going through the roof, yoga classes are accessible 24/7 and anywhere in the world as long as you have internet. You would think that is a good thing. More yoga is always good, right?

My opinion? Yes and No.

Yes to YouTube Yoga

Online yoga classes certainly are wonderful for people who do not have access to yoga teachers or studios. It is greatly motivating to practice with an (online) video if the only other option is doing nothing for lack of support and guidance.

Back in 2008, I moved to a little desert town by the Red Sea in Egypt. There was no yoga school nearby. Since I really wanted to keep doing yoga, I practiced with DVD’s (not so much online yoga back then yet!). After a few months, we were gathering with a bunch of friends and doing yoga together, after-hours in the school gym with a laptop connected to a projector so we could all see the video properly.  

These DVD’s kept me going for months until I discovered Ashtanga Yoga Mysore style and learned to practice without a teacher. Without those DVD’s, I probably would have abandoned yoga and my life might have turned out completely different.

So yes. If you do not have the possibility to join yoga classes or prefer the comfort of your own home to practice, please turn on your laptop and choose one of the thousands of classes on offer on the internet. Getting on that mat is what is important. If it’s an online yoga class that is going to keep you inspired and motivated, use it.

But… choose your class wisely.

And that but is in fact a lead up to my NO.

No to YouTube Yoga

Based on my experience as a teacher, the greatest disadvantage of pre-recorded classes is the lack of personal interaction and guidance. When I teach, many of my cues are prompted by what I see students doing or not doing. More often than not, I adapt my prepared sequence to the people and the energy in the room. Each body is different and each person needs to do the pose in a way that works for them. Modifications and personal adjustments are often needed, especially for beginners and people who are not fully aware of their body’s position in space. 

The risk of an online class is that the student focusses on posing like the person on-screen rather than on understanding the essence of the pose. Consequently, people force themselves into a shape they are not ready for, hold positions out of alignment and end up injuring themselves.  

Utkatasana Yoga Here & There TTC

Different bodies, different expressions of the same pose. What is good for one, could be harmful for another. We have to take into account body shape, flexibility in the joints, strengths and weaknesses of the muscles and much more.

Another risk of doing online yoga classes alone, is that you miss out on the feedback from other students. When you go to a yoga studio, you can feel from the vibe in the room whether the class is good and if the teacher knows what they are doing. When you practice with a random online video, especially as a beginner, it is much more difficult to assess the quality of the teacher. 

Though it is unlikely that any of this will result in broken bones, torn ligaments or worse, sprains and repetitive strain injuries can occur due to repeated inappropriate alignment of the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees and lower back, especially in the sacroiliac area.

In a nutshell, that is why I say NO to online yoga classes. It is risky to advise students to use random online demos without a note of caution. Simply because we cannot assume that in a video, the teacher can address all the potential issues.

But of course, it’s not all that black and white.

I can totally imagine a situation where you combine online classes with studio classes due to a busy schedule. Perhaps you live somewhere remote without a yoga teacher nearby and go to a yoga retreat once or twice a year, filling your yoga cup with online classes the rest of the time.

My advice to followers of online yoga classes would be to make sure you do your research. Read articles or books and watch videos that explain the alignment of the postures one by one, including the contra-indications and benefits. Follow tutorials, not only classes. Take your time to really understand the poses rather than to just mimic the teacher on your screen.

Here is a small selection of websites that I have found very useful to learn more about the anatomy of yoga, as a student and as a teacher:

loveyogaanatomy.com

www.yoganatomy.com

www.yogajournal.com

When you do have the chance to consult with a yoga teacher, for example during a workshop, ask them for specific points to pay attention to when practicing alone. Perhaps you could even consider getting one or two private classes at home, so that the teacher can look at your personal physical structure and give you tailored recommendations for future reference.

And then, under the guidance of a reliable digital teacher, enjoy a healthy and above all safe practice, at a place of your own choice, in your own time