I admit it. I’ve been one of those yoga practitioners who never took the value of Savasana seriously. As much as my teachers touted it as the “most important pose in yoga,” I just couldn’t buy it.
Certainly, at the end of a very intense class, I appreciated those well-earned, precious moments of doing nothing—collapsed into a state of final exhaustion, often falling asleep, hoping that this respite would go on forever!
But Savasana is not about falling asleep. “Most difficult for students,” says Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, “not waking, not sleeping.” Savasana is the time in practice where we are fully aware while remaining in complete surrender.
Should Savasana always be the ‘final’ pose?
No, it is not confined to being the final pose.
Some traditions such as Sivananda yoga intersperse Savasana between their sequences of high intensity postures. Used in this way, this innocuous pose provides a physiological, yet powerfully understated value—that of developing energy vigor and rebound.
The ability to move from intense activity to a state of complete inaction becomes interval training for our body’s energy. It helps our breath improve, stress hormones regulate, and brain activity restore to balanced states.
Over time, this interval regimen can reduce the unconscious state of chronic, profound exhaustion that many of us suffer.
Savasana is Corpse Pose.
Savasana, which derives from the Sanskrit term Sava, meaning corpse, is also known as Mrtasana, incorporating the word Mrta, meaning death.
In India, the corpse is prepared for this ultimate experience with auspicious alignment. The chest is lifted, and the shoulders and lower ribs are tucked down and back. A mortician in the States told me that a similar method is practiced here.
When Savasana is typically relegated to the final, resting pose, it is held one minute for each 10 minutes of asana, when time permits. Savasana is sometimes guided with cues taken from Yoga Nidra.
Blankets, eye pads, and bolsters under the knees are often used. Breath is encouraged to become slow and deepened. In spite of its state of inactivity, alignment instructions are given, following the form similar to Tadasana.
Savasana offers the opportunity to surrender into the pose and find Ishvarapranidhana—the release into the supreme love and respect for our connection with things greater than ourselves.
Savasana is energy interval training.
Those who run, bike or do similar activities are familiar with interval training. Increasing the intensity of an activity for short intervals, followed by a slower period of recovery, builds cardiovascular resiliency.
Savasana, as the interval between vigorous yoga sequences, takes the practitioner from high intensity activity to physiological rest. Savasana interval training develops an energetic vigor and reduces the tendency for the student to collapse into exhaustion or fall asleep.
The heart rate increases and rapidly slows down. Muscular tension switches from being fully engaged to fully laxed.
The nervous system adapts to stimulation with less reaction. The stress hormone response is quieted and less reactive. The mind shifts from high activity to de-focus while remaining aware and present.
Why should you practice Savasana?
Do you fall asleep within moments of entering Savasana? Adding short periods of Savasana between the more vigorous, high intensity sequences of asana develops energetic vitality. As we develop the capacity to remain conscious while in physiological recovery, we can greatly improve our energetic stamina.
Not as a substitute, but when not getting enough sleep at night, interval Savasana will help!
Do you become agitated in class when the teacher calls for Savasana? Are you unfinished and crave more vigorous postures and sequences? It’s possible that you are ready for a higher level of physical challenge, perhaps requiring a different class or style of practice.
And, that is wonderful and great to know!
Savasana should be a welcome respite, an invited bookmark in your practice, not a sacrifice of your time and energy. The caveat: if you are still exhausted when you hit Savasana, then it may be the ego driving your practice, not your inner wisdom!