Every discipline of yoga is different, from the pace, the order of sequence, the focus points of the poses, even the names. But one thing stays the same in every class, regardless of which type. At the end of every class, you’ll always have at least a few minutes of Savasana – or corpse pose. This is where you lay down on the floor, on your back and you’re encouraged to let go of the physical self, absorb the benefits of your practice and move toward meditation.
Sounds easy right? But don’t be deceived – Corpse pose, or Savasana is often referred to as the most difficult pose of all.
But You’re Just Laying There, What Can Be So Hard About That?
For people who are naturally high energy and love a vinyasa flow class or strong hatha, sometimes the task of just lying there is found to be a lot harder than it looks. The problem is the ability to switch off. Relaxation is a process, not an on/off button and for some, this process is something they really struggle with.
With our lives being so crammed full of stimulation; doing stuff – if we’re not meeting people, working, parenting, hobbies having social lives, then we’re generally encouraged to make sure we fill our time with something. So suddenly you’re asked to just stop, drop and do… absolutely nothing?
More often than not, when we first lay down, we’ll generally be tense in at least 20% of our bodies, so the idea is we gradually soften any where that we find ourselves gripping (often completely unaware we’re even doing it). Unlike going to sleep, where the main aim is to switch off and let go entirely so you can drift off, savasana is putting the body into a sleep like state, but keeping the mind completely aware. (Aware without chattering away and going through your to do lists that is!).
Like with many things, relaxation is something we can learn how to do, and once we’ve mastered it, we can use it as our start point for meditation.
So How Do I Do Savasana?
First of all, lay down on your back on the floor. Make sure your shoulders are away from your ears and your back feels flat on the floor. Have your arms around 45 degrees away from your body with your palms facing upwards. Have your legs placed wider than your hips, letting them roll out naturally. If you have a sensitive lower back, you can always keep the knees bent and walk your feet to the edges of your mat and allow your knees to gently rest towards each other. Close your eyes and take a deep slow inhale through your nose. Pause for a moment and then allow your breath to release slowly and evenly through your mouth, doing your best to let everything go limp and heavy with your exhale. You can repeat that two or three times if you like. This triggers the parasympathetic nervous system and signals to the body that it’s okay to relax.
Begin with a mental body scan, starting at the top of your head and gradually moving your attention down, relaxing any tension as you go. Your face will almost always have some tension, so relax your forehead, let your jaw unclench and your eye muscles to soften with your temples. Work down through your neck, shoulders and chest. Then soften your arms, wrists, hands and fingers. Let your belly relax and feel your lower back drop with your pelvis. Allow your inner body to let go of holding. Let your legs get heavier and release your ankles, feet and toes.
More often, by the time you get to the feet, you’ll be gripping somewhere in the upper body again, so repeat that process as many times as you need before you feel the layers of your body completely surrender to the ground. Be patient with the process and expect to be distracted by your mind at least a few times! Keep guiding your attention back to letting go and allow your exhale to guide you deeper into releasing, with your body softening into the space around you as it gets heavier.
In this process, you are teaching your body how to let go of stress in the most natural easeful way, which in turn will benefit all of your emotional and mental well being. Savasana is better practised after a yoga sequence of some kind, so our bodies are more open and stretched out, making it easier to relieve tension in the muscles.
Once you’ve tended to your body, observe your breath and gently lengthening and slow it for several rounds to anchor your mind.
Then comes the challenge!
Observe how your mind functions in this stillness and you’ll usually notice how busy it is in there! Also notice how your mind and its thoughts control your ongoing relaxation – without even realising it, tensing up as you think away! Our minds will offer up all kinds of random or repetitive ideas, memories, imaginings, stories… almost as if it’s trying to sabotage our meditation, but we can improve this with practice. Our job is to simply notice this and keep repeatedly and gently guiding our minds back to softening, back to the gentle rhythm of the breath. Eventually our minds learn to calm down and follow the example of the body and breath in their quietening.
The truth is, unless we stop and truly allow ourselves the time to be still, we can never let the inner self take a break and clear things away. You need time to find space mentally and to put things down.
In fact, Savasana not only represents the end of the practice – stopping and absorbing all the goodness from the physical elements of yoga, but also the symbolic gesture of being able to put down our burdens that we carry with us like a weight, each and every day.
A top tip for Savasana is to try and get all your fidgeting done first and out of the way, so that you can commit to being completely still. Try to avoid moving at all and see if any little urges to scratch or adjust go away.
For when you’re in Savasana, a good idea is to set an alarm on a device, with a gentle sound to let you know when your time is up. Begin with 4 minutes and gradually increase the length of time every time you return to the pose. You can stay there for anything up to 20 minutes, gradually increasing the time the more you become accustomed to it. Of course by that point, it’s harder not to fall asleep!
If you get bored, ask yourself why is that? Is it because we’re so used to being stimulated, we are unable not to be for a while? The contents of your mind should be interesting to you – not necessarily the thoughts, but deeper than that, where you can ultimately connect to your innermost and highest self.
Variations on Savasana
You can let your legs drape over a support – either a blanket, several cushions or a bolster if you have one. Or just use your sofa! That’s a really nice way to support your back and helps to bring circulation back into the legs after a hard day standing on your feet.
Another alternative is to rest with the head and back elevated at a gradual angle, (so almost as if you were lying in a bed). This really helps to release the shoulders and get the breath flowing easily through your open chest. If you are feeling especially tired, this variation is a great option.
You may also like a blanket under your head to ease any pressure through your neck.
A lavender eye pillow is an excellent way to trigger the relaxation response, and lavender is a key essential oil for relaxing. If you don’t have an eye pillow a scarf can do nicely. We sell it downstairs in the Mary Ann Weeks Aveda Guildford and Walton salons, along with the other Aveda essential oil collection.
Just taking this small amount of time to centre and relax, will begin to feel amazing and essential for a calmer and freer you. This is a wonderful introduction to meditation, which can benefit you in so many ways.
If you’d like to experience this beautiful part of a yoga practice, then why not pop down to our studio sometime and give our excellent teachers a try?