Align: Savasana

 Savasana, or corpse pose, with the body lightly supported and an eye pillow to support rest.

Savasana, or corpse pose, with the body lightly supported and an eye pillow to support rest.

Savasana is considered the most important element of any posture-based yoga practice. It is a pose which exemplifies the practice of yoga, of balancing the body and mind, and the reaching of samadhi, the state of complete bliss.

Functions of the Pose

Resting the body

Savasana is a pose in which the body is completely relaxed, a time for the body to balance. When done at the end of an asana (posture) practice, the pose is an opportunity for the body to integrate physical and energetic changes that have occurred for the optimal well-being of the practitioner.

Disciplining the mind

Especially for beginning students, allowing themselves to rest in savasana, remaining aware and still, can be the most challenging element of yoga. In savasana, the mind and its patterns can be observed, and practitioners have the opportunity to practice observing with compassion and patience.

 Side-lying Savasana, a good modification during pregnancy.

Side-lying Savasana, a good modification during pregnancy.

Finding the Pose

  1. Lie down on your back, bringing your feet at least hip-width apart and hands slightly away from the body with palms turned up.
  2. Close your eyes, relax any conscious effort, and allow yourself to disengage from any thoughts, sensations or actions that may come up as you rest.
 Simple savasana, with no props.

Simple savasana, with no props.

Tips & Modifications

Keep in mind that there are many positions in which the body can relax. For evenness of breath, students are encouraged to rest in a position that keeps their head and chest at the same level, but elevating the feet or legs, changing arm positions, or lying on the side or even the stomach may be more appropriate for some students. The aim is to find a position in which the body is supported so that it can be completely relaxed while the student remains attentive.

As the body relaxes, its core temperature will begin to lower, and practitioners will often need to cover with a blanket to stay warm. It's also nice to have support under the neck and knees, and using an eye pillow or towel to cover the face can increase the restorative effects of savasana.

Especially for students with highly developed shoulders and back muscles, it may be comfortable to bring the arms into a 90-degree angle with the hands at the level of the head. Some students may prefer to rest their hands on their stomach.

Most students will feel more comfortable with some support under their knees. This support could be a rolled or folded blanket, a bolster, or even their own mat rolled up on the end. Support under the knees allows the psoas muscle to shorten and relax, which in turn allows the low back to relax more fully toward the floor.

 Legs-up-the-chair, a modification of savasana that is especially relaxing to the back and hips.

Legs-up-the-chair, a modification of savasana that is especially relaxing to the back and hips.

Another modification which supports the legs and allows the hips and low back to relax, is legs-up-the-chair. The practitioner will place their lower legs on a chair at the end of his mat, elevating the legs and lightening the load on the hips. This also relieves strain in the lower back. If you don't have a chair, you could place a bolster across two blocks (See our video ¨Yoga for Pi Day¨ for a tutorial).

Muscle Actions

  • No controlled muscle actions. In savasana, the practitioner allows the body to freely perform its natural functions, maintaining full awareness without controlling any movement or action.
  • It can be helpful to practice relaxing muscles which tend to be habitually tense (such as those in the jaw, brow, eyes, neck and shoulders).

Benefits

  • A rested and relaxed body is an optimally functioning body. Savasana and other restorative positions support the body into parasympathetic arousal. The parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is sometimes referred to as the ¨rest and digest¨ system as it directs the proper functioning of the endocrine, immune, digestive/urinary and reproductive systems. Relaxation promotes healthy blood pressure, breathing rate and total well-being.

Precautions

  • During the latter half or two thirds of pregnancy, many women are unable to lie on their back as their baby's weight increases and places pressure on the inferior vena cava (the large vein in the abdomen that returns blood to the heart). If lying on their back is uncomfortable or causes any nausea, dizziness or general sense of malaise, students can choose to lie on their sides, using blankets, blocks and bolsters under their head, top arm and leg and possibly belly for comfort. Another option may be to simply place a folded blanket under the right hip to shift the weight of the baby to the side and away from the inferior vena cava.
  • Another option for relaxation is a supported reclining pose, in which the upper body is supported by a block and bolster and reclined at about a 15 degree angle from the floor. This can be helpful for students who are uncomfortable or who have difficulty breathing lying with their upper body flat on the floor.
 Supported reclined relaxation, a good substitute for savasana during pregnancy, or for students who have difficulty breathing lying down (fairly common for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or respiratory disorder).

Supported reclined relaxation, a good substitute for savasana during pregnancy, or for students who have difficulty breathing lying down (fairly common for those with heart disease, high blood pressure, or respiratory disorder).

Sequencing Tips

Savasana is practiced for several minutes at the end of asana practice, and frequently during a practice to rest or feel grounded between other postures. Savasana can also be practiced on its own to restore the body and mind after a stressful day or before an event.

In her recent interview, ¨Savasana: The Art of Doing Nothing," Judith Hanson Lasater (senior Iyengar yoga teacher and author of Relax and Renew) stated that it takes the body approximately fifteen minutes to actually reach a relaxed state, and that a proper savasana should last at least twenty minutes to give the practitioner's body and mind time to receive the full benefit of the pose.

Additional Resources:

Leeann Carey will be conducting a restorative yoga teacher training at Bliss Yoga in July 2014. Learn more about the event and find out how to register.

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times
By P.T. Judith Hanson Lasater Ph.D.