An asana practice is meant to do many things, one of which is to utilize your body in the ways it was designed so you can stay strong and flexible throughout life. But unlike modern forms of exercise, asana also strengthens your mind.
It’s easy to see the mental strengthening in action when you are challenged to hold a pose like virbhadrasana B for 15 breaths; you must let go of the thoughts that tell you “no.” But there is no better place to learn to let go than in the final pose of your asana practice: savasana, or corpse pose.
It is said that savasana is the most important pose, because in this state of active relaxation, you can integrate the benefits of your practice, calm vata dosha, realign your chakras, balance the nervous system and practice letting go of your thoughts to be present. All of this is what you can carry off the mat to practice Yoga in your daily life.
Despite its benefits, savasana can be the most difficult pose to practice for some people. Lying on your back, eyes closed in a state of deep relaxation, you have nowhere else to go but within. You may find joy in this state, or, if you are not used to this inward gaze from a regular meditation practice, or you are fatigued, you might find yourself falling asleep. If you find yourself in that pattern, focus on watching your breath – a gentle and easy breath, different from the ujjayi breathing you used in other poses – as you send your attention to different parts of your body, working from your feet up to the crown of your head.
No matter what, don’t skip savasana. Give yourself the gift of a short period of 7 to 10 minutes after your practice to calm the movement of vata dosha, cool the warmth of pitta dosha and welcome the stable and nourishing aspects of kapha dosha into your practice. This balancing pose invites sattva for your whole being – the true intent of a Yoga practice.
Here at Hale Pule, we talk about asana with three designations: essence, anchor and strength. This is a simple tool to remember the intention of the pose, where your body is grounded and the muscles you engage for proper alignment. These components will support optimal energy flow and a sustainable practice throughout your life.
Savasana from the ground up
Props are a lovely way to enhance this pose and bring in even more conscious relaxation. Try an eye pillow or wrap a blanket around your head to draw your senses in. Or, if you feel cool, drape a blanket over your body for warmth. For a grounding variation, try placing the bottoms of your feet against a wall during this pose.
1. Lie down on your back, keeping the natural curve in your spine and neck.
2. Spread your feet a bit wider than hip-width distance apart and let your hands fall off the edge of your mat, palms facing up. Your hands should not touch your body.
3. Let go of your ujjayi breath and allow your body to fully relax for 7 to 10 minutes (15 minutes if your asana practice was more than one hour).
Vata calming savasana variation using a blanket to cover ears and eye pillow.
Grounding savasana variation with feet pressed against a wall.
Common trouble spots
Feet too wide or too close. Spreading your feet slightly wider than hip-width distance allows all the muscles in your legs and pelvis to release. Too close inhibits the release and energy flow through the lower body, and too far takes the spine out of its natural curves.
Flattening the lower back or neck. Release tension in your spine and support flow throughout your nervous system by allowing your lower back and neck to retain their natural curves.
Palms facing down. When your palms are open to the sky, you are in a place to receive. Unless it’s physically uncomfortable, keep your palms facing up in this pose.