Savasana might look like a nap at the end of your yoga practice. But it’s actually a fully conscious pose aimed at being awake, yet completely relaxed. This makes it one of the most challenging poses in yoga because it asks you to become perfectly still and quiet in your body and mind without drifting off into snoozeville. Yes, it's possible. Don’t be discouraged - read on.
Its Sanskrit name, “Savasana” (shah-VAHS-uh-nuh), comes from two words. The first is “Sava” (meaning “corpse”), and the second is “asana” (meaning “pose”). We like to refer to this pose as the "sponge pose". It's where you absorb all of the benefits and the mental imprint of the shapes you just created with your body. In Savasana, you lie completely on your back with your eyes closed. You gradually relax one body part at a time, one muscle at a time, and one thought at a time. This my friends, is FREEDOM.
Practicing Savasana stimulates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system (that “fight or flight” concept) that’s activated during the rest of yoga practice. Relaxing your physical body offers numerous benefits, including lowered blood pressure, a decreased heart rate, and less muscle tension. Furthermore, it results in reduced occurrence of headaches, improved concentration and memory, and relief from anxiety and panic attacks.
Unlike active, physically demanding poses, Savasana requires a conscious decision to soften the dialogue in your mind and surrender fully into a state of presence. We move from a state of "doing" yoga to a state of simply "being" yoga.
And, folks, this is hard.
We must not only relax our muscles, but also become equally skilled at letting our mental chatter (chitta) vanish for the benefits of this pose to occur. Unfortunately, our bodies and minds often throw us a number of distractions. And that's okay!! Just become the witness and observe each distraction for what it is. Allow it to flow into your mind and watch it leave just as quickly as it entered. This is part of the process. A few examples of distractions may be you have an itch or your body might feel sweaty, especially after our hot yoga classes. Your mind might think: “Did I ever send that email?” or “What’s for dinner?” Perhaps you think: “Come on, relax already!” or “Zzzz…”
So, don’t underestimate the art of relaxation. Many yoga students who can easily balance, bend, and twist throughout class, struggle when it comes to lying on the floor. You can’t demand relaxation - anyone who’s ever had trouble falling asleep at night knows this. That’s why we thought we’d share five simple steps that can help you improve your Savasana practice.
Steps to a Successful Savasana:
- Set yourself up for success- Stretch out on your mat, making sure you’re completely comfortable. Wipe your sweaty face with a towel. Place a blanket under your head or lower back for additional support if needed. The more relaxed and comfortable you are as you begin your Savasana, the more you can easily surrender your thoughts and mind.
- Take one large, cleansing breath- This last, audible exhale signals to your body to release into Savasana and gives you a sense of accomplishment for showing up and doing your best. It also is a detoxifying breath to let go of any remaining stress or negative residue.
- Scan for tension- In your mind, run through each part of your body and draw it closer to the ground. Evaluate places of tension, especially those hiding in your jaw, temples, shoulders, and hips. Stress often accumulates in these areas.
- Notice your thought patterns- Some days will be easier than others. That’s okay! Try to be at ease, trusting the power of your breath. Look out for the peaceful moments of quiet between your thoughts. Gradually, these will become longer and longer - and you’ll discover more inner quiet.
- Exit gently- To leave the pose, first begin to wake your body by slowly wiggling your fingertips and toes. Continue by rolling your wrists and feet. Then, roll gently onto one side in the fetal position, cradling your head with your arm. Take several breaths here before pressing your hands against the floor and lifting your torso into a seated position with your eyes closed. It’s important to exit Savasana gracefully, allowing your body the time and space to return to reality.
In our rapidly moving world, cultivating the art of Savasana is more valuable than ever. While our society tends to place great value on speed and productivity, learning how to do nothing is a skill that can help you become more productive when you need to be.