Savasana: Why you need it
Updated: Sep 7, 2019
By: Katie Nassiff
Savasana: What it is and why you should practice it
You’re approaching the end of your hour-long heated vinyasa practice at Highland Yoga. You’ve been moving on the breath, dripping sweat, and drowning out your thoughts with movement and music for the last 50 minutes. The lights dim, you’re led through a cool down, and finally you hear the teacher say, “enjoy this final resting pose, what you’ve been working toward for the last hour…. Savasana.”
Savasana (shah-VAHS-anna), or Corpse Pose, is a pose of complete and total relaxation. Though it can be practiced any time, it’s common (and beneficial) for a yoga class to end with this peaceful pose. Including Savasana in your practice can help calm your mind and body to create a restful and meditative state - and there are loads of physical benefits that make Savasana worth your while. At Highland Yoga, we close every practice by offering Savasana to give you the opportunity to receive all these benefits, and encourage you to give yourself permission to surrender.
Savasana is one of the oldest postures recorded in yogic practice. It’s first mentioned in the ancient text Hatha Yoga Pradipika in the 15th century, where it’s described as a pose used to ‘remove fatigue and give rest to the mind’. This practice of full-body relaxation continues to be one of the most common, challenging, and useful poses in a yogic practice - and for good reason! It’s loaded with great benefits for your mind and body!
Like meditation, taking a few minutes in Savasana has been shown to reduce anxiety and even relieve headache, fatigue, insomnia, and mild depression. If you struggle to find time to build meditation into your day, practicing Savasana at the end of class is a built-in opportunity to give yourself a little extra space to clear your thoughts and reap the benefits of a meditation practice.
Although it seems counterintuitive to lie down, adding Savasana to the end of your practice gives your body an opportunity to absorb all the physical goodies of the practice. In Vinyasa yoga, a meditative state is created by linking breath to movement. Ending your practice with Savasana is like the cherry on top of your flow - it’s an opportunity for the mind and body to clear any final stressors and has the potential to bring you to a state of meditative bliss. Think about it like updating your phone software -- you’ve just spent an hour twisting, turning, tuning up your internal systems, and at the end of practice, Savasana is like the ‘reboot’ that helps make sure your hard work is absorbed. During Savasana, your heart rate and breath return to normal. Your temperature drops back down and your nervous system relaxes. Your body is made up of complex systems, and by moving through a series of poses, these systems are stimulated. During the physical practice, the sympathetic nervous system stimulates the mind and body, creating a ‘fight or flight’ response. Taking time to practice Savasana gives your body’s parasympathetic nervous system a chance to reduce the stress created during practice, sending your body to “rest and digest” mode. Not only will your mind feel better from the calming practice, but your internal systems like digestion and immunity will benefit. Plus, you’ll still leave practice feeling energized, but with an increased sense of calm, productivity, and self confidence!
Corpse pose is accessible to most students - the biggest challenges in this pose are mental. This pose can be surprisingly confrontational, especially in a society that puts value on being busy and active. For many, it feels uncomfortable to be still. You might feel frustrated, or vulnerable. Physical distractions might disrupt you - the sweat dripping on your face, an itch, the touch of your clothes on your skin - and there may be temptation to fidget or adjust. These distractions are just as mental as the thoughts that pass through your mind. They are challenges to finding complete surrender. Rather than considering what you’re going to do after practice, what your weekend plans are, or how hungry you might be… find something internal to focus on. Bring your attention to your breath. If you’re noticing your mind wander, try focusing on a word or mantra as you inhale and exhale. An example might be: [inhale] “I am here” [exhale] “I am loved”.
Though it might be tempting to skip out of class early, especially when your mind starts to wander toward fighting Atlanta traffic or your grocery list - consider giving yourself the gift of Savasana. In one final, challenging pose, you’re giving yourself a chance to be purely, unapologetically you by taking up space, tuning in with your breath, and simply existing. The few minutes are well worth the reward.
How to: Savasana
- Come to the mat or floor. Place your body in a neutral position, and stretch out long.
Make sure you’re completely comfortable - add a blanket, bolster, or blocks if you need more support or comfort. Place a towel over your eyes. Allow yourself to find a place where you can fully relax.
- Take a big cleansing breath to signal to your parasympathetic nervous system that it’s time to relax.
- Allow your body to get its heaviest. Do a full-body scan, releasing the tension from each body part as your mind wanders over it. Start at your toes and move toward the crown of your head. Relax your jaw. Let your head be heavy.
- Find stillness. - this is where the work happens. Allow yourself to just notice your breath without changing it. Let your mind grow calm. Resist the urge to move or fidget.
Stay here, noticing, for 5 - 10 minutes or longer. Remember, Savasana isn’t a state of sleep, but rather complete surrender in an awake state.
Eventually, when you’re ready, take a few deep breaths in to reawaken your physical body, and gently roll over to one side. As you rise up to a seat, move slowly and gently.