“To tame prana (life force) depends upon the nerves. Steady, smooth, fine and deep breathing without any jerky movements of the body soothes the nerves and calms the mind. The stresses of modern civilization are a strain on the nerves for which savasana is the best antidote.” – BKS Iyengar
At the end of practicing yoga postures, the finalpose is traditionally corpse pose. It’s an unusual pose because we do it with the eyes closed and with the intention to fully relax the entire body. This is different than other poses (with the exception of restorative poses), because in most other poses we’re meant to consciously engage and direct muscular tension. Corpse pose is a symmetrical pose, and alignment-wise is very simple. Ideally we release all muscular tension from the body, and all mental tension from the mind. For some people relaxing the body is hard enough, and I’d say for MOST of us, relaxing the mind is extremely difficult! But, as with everything else, “practice makes perfect.”
Notice the chin is slightly tucked in savasana – this is to ensure the easiest flow of breath during the pose. Notice the palms are up and the arms are externally rotated. Ideally arms can rest easily on the floor. Notice the hips, legs and feet are externally rotated. If this position hurts your low back, an easy fix is placing a pillow under the knees. This will take tension out of the low back. Savasana is practiced with unconscious breathing, this is in contrast to the rest of the yoga practice. If we breathe deeply and consciously while doing the yoga poses, the breath should flow freely in savasana even though we’re no longer directing it.
“This conscious relaxation invigorates and refreshes both body and mind. But it is much harder to keep the mind than the body still. Therefore, this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master.” – BKS Iyengar
Effects of the pose
Savasana is rejuvenating for the mind and body. Over time, practicing savasana as the last pose during yoga practice helps correct misalignments in the body. It releases deep stress and tension in the mind and body. It prepares the body for pranayama and meditation. It increases our ability to relax ourselves at will.
Many times students come to class feeling tired or harried or overwhelmed, and when they leave tell me how much better they feel. Savasana is responsible for much of this energizing effect.
While most people tell me they enjoy savasana, some students don’t like it or avoid it. In general, we tend to avoid what makes us uncomfortable. Those people who are not comfortably staying still are not comfortable in savasana. This can often indicate an over abundance of anxiety and nervousness. Fortunately savasana can also help reduce anxiety and nervousness! If you have a hard time with savasana, and you recognize yourself in this description, start practicing it a little bit at a time. For those of us who already enjoy savasana, practicing it can reduce our level of daily anxiety and stress.
Deeper understanding of the pose
It is no coincidence we do the corpse pose at the end. Consider that yoga practice is meant to imitate life, and that savasana is meant to imitate death. During a class - or an at-home practice - we move a lot, taking poses that represent roles and objects in life, and we experience moments of challenge and relief - Just like we do in “real life.” And in savasana, as in death, we leave all that movement behind, release our ambitions and intentions, stop breathing consciously, close our eyes and rest.
This practice of imitating death is meant to remind us, benignly, that there is no way to leave this life but as a corpse. My cousin is a physician and he recently told me his job description is “delaying the inevitable.” Another friend told me when he was diagnosed with terminal illness that he’s “never been so alive as when he finally considered his own death.” But for most of us, this fact is not something we are comfortable considering.
It’s easy to get so wrapped up in the drama of our lives that we lose sight of things we are really committed to, and the big picture, and the fact that we have a very limited time in which to accomplish these things. Savasana gently reminds us of this each time we practice it.