Shava (शव, Śava) = corpse
Asana (आसन, Āsana) = posture, seat
Shavasana (शवासन, Śavāsana) = corpse posture
You enter the room, roll out your mat, move and breathe for an hour or more and then, bam, lay down and stop moving. For some it’s a welcome relief, for others a dreaded waste of time and for many it can be quite challenging. I see these reactions — and varying states in between — every day. So, wherever you fall on this spectrum, you’re not alone. Regardless your reaction, it happens, and so I’m hoping it will prove meaningful to explore….
Why do we do it?
Śavāsana is a time to balance out the energy and benefits from all the effort you’ve expended on the mat. When the asana practice that precedes it is done with thoughtful, purposeful movement and alignment we are giving ourselves the opportunity to undo patterns of thought and being that are not beneficial and replace them with ones that are. At the end of this time of right effort, our body and mind need and thrive from the opportunity to assimilate the healthy aspects and let go of the unnecessary parts.
This takes on greater meaning when we consider that we are working with five bodies (koshas), not just one. Typically we may just be thinking that we have one body — the physical body, which in yoga speak is called annamaya kosha meaning “food body”. In addition to that we have an energetic body (pranamaya kosha), emotional body (manamaya kosha), intellectual body (ajñamaya kosha) and a spiritual body (anandamaya kosha). Each of these is effected by every experience we have. The asana practice is a time wherein we are given the opportunity to set-up the conditions to take only those actions that support the health and wellbeing of all five bodies. This is part of the reason why it is so important to thoughtfully select the environment in which you practice to eliminate distractions and preoccupations of the body and mind and facilitate focus.
By turning our awareness inward we can increase our ability to perceive what’s going on within us and develop something called interoception. Interoception is insight on the physiological condition of the body and is associated with the autonomic nervous system and autonomic motor control. The autonomic nervous system is in control of the normally unconscious and automatic bodily functions like breathing, the heartbeat, and the digestive processes. With repetition, a cornerstone of yoga practice, we can then become better at tapping into what is going on within us and better deal with the stresses of life. It’s a rewiring of the nervous system that supports steady engagement in the world.
How do we do it?
We get into the posture by lying flat on our back, taking the legs apart about the width of the mat (wider of shorter depending on your body size), allowing the legs to relax, externally rotate and the feet roll out, laying the arms out to the side about eight to ten inches from the body with the palms facing up and the hands open. (Side note, a way to maintain alertness is to actively outstretch the fingers since we tend to keep our hands somewhat closed in a protective way similar to the way we tend to close in around our hearts). The shoulders should be dropped down and away from the ears and the head resting flat with a slight tilt toward the chest. Lie face up with eyes closed and breath on automatic.
You may find it beneficial to purposefully bring tension to the muscles and then release into the resting state. Those of you familiar with Ashtanga know that at the end of the practice we take three seated postures, the first two of which are in a fairly relaxed state and then the very last one we lift up (utplithi) and contract most all the muscles of the body as a means of drawing our energy inward and upward in a focused, conscious manner. We do this in preparation to then let go and relax into a resting state.
Remain in this still state until your breath and heart rate become relaxed, ideally for ten minutes or more (some say five minutes for every 30 minutes of practice). Now, due to the impatience of Westerners and the accelerated pace at which we’re living our lives, classes keep getting shorter leaving limited time for this resting element of the practice. So, we try and get at least five minutes, more when possible.
While in śavāsana we remain relaxed but awake maintaining a level of mindful awareness and detachment — observing the thoughts, feelings and sensations of the mind and body without attaching to them and turning them into something more. It is a conscious asana where you are fully awake and deeply relaxed at the same time, which is not always an easy balance to attain.
Upon conclusion of śavāsana it’s important not to just jump up and go, but rather take a few breaths to begin moving the body and making one’s way off the mat.
Do you want to learn about what happens on a spiritual and energetic level when you take savasana rest? Head on over to Cory's blog for more!
And of course....below check out his latest workshops & special learning opportunities:
- Yoga Studies Program: Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Round 2 - Breath and Bandhas August 25, 12:45-2:45pm
- Yoga Fundamentals - Four Week Series on Wednesday nights Starts Sept 12, 7:45-9:00pm
- Intro to Mysore - Stepping into the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Primary SeriesSept 29 & 30, 8:30-10:00am and Oct 1, 6:30-8:30am