Poppy Wortman examines a deceptively simple pose...
When asking what a person’s favourite yoga pose is, a jovial, jokey answer is often, “Savasana”. I mean, who doesn’t like a delicious lie down after a few bends and inversions?
But it shouldn’t be joke. Savasana, the corpse pose or “heavenly rest” is absolutely key to practice – so having it as your pet position is perfectly justified.
You see, the literal meaning of “corpse” is quite ironic; Savasana is not in any way about checking out. It’s actually letting go of your whirlwind mind and its distracting and sometimes destructive thoughts to get in touch with your consciousness – as well as give the body rest in order to integrate the magic of the asanas just undertaken and fully assimilate their benefits. For the fullest yoga experience and to obtain a deep connection with your vital energies, Savasana is one posture you cannot expel from your sequence.
That’s a lot from a position that appears to be just lying on the floor.
In the West it’s sort of seen as a “chill pill”, the five minutes of “me time” before everyone goes back to their busy lives. Moments for making a mental grocery shop list or planning the rest of the week or even having a little slumber when the night before didn’t do the job. Like the yogic version of the cardio cool-down. Some students even deem to skip it, quietly rolling up their mats and leaving class so they can get back to ticking off their to-do’s earlier. Ideal and quite lovely if time permits, but not essential.
But Savasana is vital.
Savasana is a very purposeful resting pose. You are like a snow globe; in asana practice, everything gets stirred up and shaken about - and needs settling down. Savasana is like setting your body on a table and letting all the flurried flakes float to equilibrium.
The origins of Savasana are somewhat shrouded in mystery. Its earliest mention proves to be in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the 14th century, where it claims that lying full length on your back like a corpse eliminates the tiredness caused by the asanas practised prior.
Savasana rejuvenates the body, mind and spirit. Your breath deepens, stress is relieved and psychological effort is (meant to be) surrendered. A blissful neutrality should be slipped into, where reflection on the practice and tuning in with the body are the way. B.K.S Iyengar – the founder of Iyengar yoga and who is considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world – was once approached by a very time-poor student. Not having time to complete a full routine every day, she asked him what the most important poses she should do were. His reply was a two-minute headstand, five-minute shoulder stand and Savasana “for as long as you can”. When such an iconic yogi says as such, you cannot debate that Savasana is not essential.
So why the morbid appellation?
It is deemed the “corpse” because when in Savasana, you lie down and become an introvert, appearing dead to the outside world. Your attention is completely focused inward, not outward on your body or on those around you, with your body temporarily having “died” from the duties and pleasures of everyday life. While the other asanas are active, Savasana is all about the mind. So it is an imitation of death, to bring you renewed life.
Coming at the end of a well-designed sequence, Savasana lets you relax while keeping your mind focused and alert. You reach an awareness that has nothing to do with external circumstances, your body type or activities; in the quiet stillness your body and mind can synthesise all of the instructions, impressions, stirrings and sensations experienced in the class.
So how to achieve the most beneficial Savasana?
First off, a careful positioning of yourself. A neutral position is imperative, with your head lying square and equidistant from each shoulder. Your arms should be alongside your torso, with your arms at a 45 degree in relation to your body. This alignment keeps your shoulders loose and breathing unrestricted.
Your legs should be at equal angles from a midline drawn through your torso, with your heads hip distance apart and turned out slightly to the sides. Palms are face up, with each hand resting on the same knuckle.
The aim is to be as in line as you can; energy flows in smooth lines, so if your head is tilted to one side or a limb is bent or crooked, energy won’t flow. Visualise a straight line running from your chin to your sternum to your pubic bone. The more your body is in a neutral position, the more your brain can let it go.
Your tongue should rest on the floor of your mouth, with your bottom teeth pulled away from the top ones. Let each toe go limp and keep your eyes as still as you can, resting in the back of their sockets. Quieten down your sacrum; the elusive “they” say the ground is a friend to the spine – be there.
It’s crucial to stay as still and present as you can.
Teachers do it differently; some guide your Savasana through a Yoga Nidra, vocally leading you to scan each body part from the tips of your toes. Some play music so you can let the tune float in one ear and out the other. Others leave you absolutely be, with no noise aside from a dong to invite you back to movement.
A way to gauge how long to spend in Savasana is five minutes for every 30 that you have performed asana. However, “they” assert that even a few minutes provides powerful benefits – half an hour is believed to be akin to four hours of sleep.
The modern day world moves at a rapid pace. Speed and productivity are seen as highly valuable and multi-tasking is seen as an enviable talent. Cultivating the art of Savasana is more important than ever before – and learning to do nothing will make you become more productive. Think of yourself like a computer; with a regular reboot, functionality greatly improves.
It does take practice and patience to surrender into Savasana, but once mastered it is indispensable. It’s your opportunity to release from the constant doing, sorting, organising, assigning, instructing and commanding and just be.