Like a friend of mine who often struts his “I am only here for Savasana” t-shirt, some of you have an instant connection with yoga’s final pose. How could an invitation to lay in complete stillness ever fail to punctuate the day with perfection? Well for others (many in fact) Savasana is the incessant struggle. The good news is whether divine or difficult, everyone is capable of doing it, and as requested here are my tips to achieve and reap the benefits from a top-shelf Savasana.
Savasana (pronounced Shah- VAHS- anna) means “corpse pose” also but rarely named Mrtasana (mrit-TAHS-anna) that translates to “death pose”. Seem macabre and completely juxtaposed to your concept of Yoga? If your association with the corpse is finality and suffering from loss, then yes. Pragmatically though we know death is certain; it’s part of the natural order and life cannot be measured without reference to it. Yogis practice this complete surrender of body, mind and soul to remind us of the value of living every moment in the present, to create space for life to flourish, to find balance, to restore, rejuvenate and become attuned to “sat-chit-ananda” or “absolute-bliss-consciousness.” Quite beautifully then, Savasana provides a metaphorical end followed by a rebirth and re-invigoration.
Want some of that? Here’s how. There are essentially 2 stages to Savasana.
Stage 1 - requires a conscious decision to be physically still.
(a) Accept your body has an in-built pre-disposition to “doing.” If lying still and refraining from fidgeting is a feat even for short bursts of time, remember Savasana is an active asana (pose) just like the rest. We don’t just collapse into Savasana. You will be familiar with our instructions to keep a neutral spine, pull the chin in slightly, allow the arms and legs to roll-open equidistant from the midline, the body to ‘sink into mat’ and so on.
(b) Don’t deal with discomfort. Luxury is not luxury unless it’s comfortable: Coco Chanel
Whilst we learn to be patient with our bodies in asana, Savasana is the time to be kind, so if you are experiencing pain or strain whilst supine prop yourself up. We have props a plenty at Elevate, so just ask your teacher for them. We can use props for:
- Neck or shoulder discomfort: Use a blanket to support the painful area, fold it evenly and ensure your spine retains its natural alignment.
- Back pain: Bending at the knees, keeping your feet hip–width apart on the floor may be sufficient to provide relief. A bolster supporting your knees or a block placed beneath your calves can further motivate the move into relaxation.
- Tight hips: Place a bolster across the top of the thighs to encourage the femur (head of the thigh bone) to release into the groin. If the practice has been heavy with hip-opening asana, a re-positioning of the thighs inwards may assist your comfort.
- If you are pre-natal you will always be assisted to use a bolster to raise your head and chest, or if you choose you can also lay on your left side.
- When we hold onto discomfort and tension, it will saturate the entire body, restrict the breath and dominate thought patterns, circumventing our chances of any success in Stage 2.
Stage 2 - requires us to “let it go” and not the Disney pop song variety! It’s letting go of the mental agitation. One of the great granddaddies of Yoga Pattabhi Jois, describes it as ‘surrendering to a void where there are no goals, concepts, opinions or other distracting thoughts’. Know however that mental stillness takes practice.
(a) Don’t foster frustration. If your mind and its busy thoughts won’t immediately settle, take your awareness to the breath. Adopt a breathing meditation by counting backwards or count your inhalation and then exhale by a greater count. Use a mantra or simply repeat one word (I often use “gratitude”) and the mind slowly releases its grip on thoughts and anxieties and settles. Give permission for your thoughts to occur, but the key is to ‘let them be’- no opinion, judgment or extrapolation wanted.
(b) Remove distractions. In Savasana your heart rate will slow and your core temperature will cool. Whilst our heaters countenance the cold, if you are a frog (like me) ensure you layer-up or use a blanket. Utilise the calming scents of our natural lavender eye-pillows, you may have noticed the delicate weight on your eye-lids calms eye-movement, creates darkness and encourages you to withdraw your senses inwards. And whilst we aim to stay aware in Savasana, if you fall asleep don’t stress – your body clearly needed it and we’ve all done it!
Persist for the Gifts
I’ve heard a number of reasons why yogasana is so comparatively intelligent (not that I am biased of course) to other exercise regimes. For me it’s the integral inclusion of Savasana’s total stillness that provides the trump card. And my friends, Savasana’s payday delivers plenty.
Physically the pose innervates our parasympathetic system “the rest, relax & digest” (our anti-stress) mode, where the immune, digestive and reproductive systems operate optimally. It allows the body time to release muscle tension, lowers blood pressure, decreases the heart rate, slows respiration. Savasana also gives your body time to process and remember information on a neuromuscular level learned through every pose- my oft-referenced nod to “cell memory theory” and absorb the healing benefits of our practice.
A favourite author of mine Timothy McCall M.D. (Yoga as Medicine) says Savasana can alleviate symptoms associated with diabetes, menopause, fibromyalgia, heart disease and weight loss. Because it assuages anxieties it may also reduce the occurrence of headaches, relieve fatigue, insomnia, nervous tension and depression. Lest we forget the focus and increased energy levels felt as you exit the big blue door- your self-resourced “Savasana adrenalin-shot”.
Persist in the practice of Savasana. Like any pose it involves technique which is slowly cultivated as your yoga practice deepens. Who knows, maybe soon you too will be strutting the next Savasana tee-!
There is one final P.S.
What do your Elevate teachers do whilst the class is in Savasana?
Good question. It’s the one time in the class when not a single eye is on us. What do we get up to when no one is watching? Here’s what a few of teachers had to say.
Amanda: Wishes she were enjoying Savasana right along side you.
Dan: Meditates but often thinks about doing cartwheels!
Jess: Breathes to avoid the temptation of joining you in Savasana and then not finishing the class on time!
Sonja: Wonders how Amanda manages to get the eye-bags on everyone with ghost-like stealth.
Leesa: Either meditates or looks out to the beautiful view....on occasion she photo bombs herself while you are all looking so relaxed...just kidding!
Copyright Amanda McLean September 2014