Savāsana or "corpse pose" is the way the majority of teachers end a yoga class, and is commonly known as final relaxation. It is practiced lying down in stillness (hence the name).
But why do we lie still for several minutes at the end of yoga?
Like many people, when I first started yoga, I dreaded the silent space at the end of class where my thoughts would swirl around my head. My first yoga classes were in a Virgin Active gym, and although my teacher was brilliant, I would lie still listening to the grunts and clanks of the gym area close by. It always seemed like a great irony to me that this practice was called "corpse pose", but as I lay down I felt more alive and awake than ever!
It took continual practice to begin to look forward to this space at the end of class, where I could fully relax into the present, and my thoughts would dissipate.
Fast forward a decade and I now realise this practice has a much deeper meaning.
So, why is Savāsana so good for us? Why does it make us feel so refreshed afterwards? And what are the spiritual origins of this simple practice?
Where did Savasana originate?
Like the entirety of our practice, Savāsana -corpse pose - has its origins in Indian culture and philosophy. The earliest mention of it is in the 14th Century in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika stating: 'Lying down on the ground like a corpse is called Savasana. It removes fatigue and gives rest to the mind.'
Many practitioners see yoga practice as a celebration of life, of all the wonderful movements our body can do, and Savāsana as a celebration of stillness, death and closure. In lying still and imitating a corpse, we turn inwards away from the world and the duties and pleasures of everyday life. Although this seems morbid, as we reawaken from Savāsana it is said we experience a rebirth of our spirit.
So, what are the benefits of Savasana?
“Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.” The Buddha
It might come as a surprise that lying down and doing nothing has so many benefits, but relaxation serves so many purposes. This is magnified by the fact that our cultures does not prioritise rest.
Stilling the busy body
The antidote to rushing around, chasing to-do-lists and the myth of productivity - allowing our body to be still gives us space to pause, rest, and simply be.
Savāsana slows our heart rate and lowers blood pressure. We experience this as our breath slowing down with our body, and the autonomic nervous system starting to regulate - sending us into a 'rest and digest' response. You may feel a wave of calm wash over you, which can aid digestion, immune function and athletic recovery. In turn, this relieves tension throughout the body.
Calming the Monkey Mind
We can be seen as snow globes: shaking our bodies up during movement practice, and allowing everything to settle in Savāsana.
In doing so, we purposefully let our minds come to stillness. The benefits of this are huge: as we ground our body, we increase our interception -- the ability to feel within ourselves - and awareness. We may experience a decrease in stress and anxiety, and with consistent practice a decrease in depression and fatigue.
Lastly, the meditative state of yoga in Savasana has been shown to activate the slower states of alpha and theta brainwaves, which are linked to creativity.
The challenge of Savāsana is to let go of thoughts, time, and simply be. The studio I currently teach in often has a loud bin lorry come by just as we are settling into relaxation - a true challenge!
This space offers us a chance to practice Pratyahara - withdrawing the senses. In our lives, and especially in the 21st Century, we are constantly receiving information through the senses. In a world of instant reactions, likes and communication, we are pulled out of our inner selves to a distracted state. Savasana offers a chance for us to reconnect to our innermost selves - The Atma.
Practicing a potent Savasana
Time to practice! Here are my top tips on getting all of those benefits from your relaxation.
Use props: set yourself up to be warm and comfortable. I love offering my students a blanket behind the head, a bolster under the knees and an eye pillow to cover the gaze.
Set a timer (or use a guided meditation) to ensure you can fully relax, and aren't thinking about how long as elapsed!
Watch your breath: a great way to still the mind is to watch the breath. Especially if your mind is busy, allow your thoughts to be washed away by each relaxed breath coming and going.
Practice makes practice: like anything, Savasana gets easier the more you practice. Make a habit out of lying down and doing nothing! It will serve you in so many ways.
Try this guided practice with me here: