HOW TO PRACTICE CORPSE POSE IN YOGA (Savasana)
Benefits, How to Instructions, Modifications, and Common Alignment Mistakes for Corpse Pose
Ah, Savasana (Corpse Pose). The final and most understated pose of yoga practice. After a challenging class, there is almost an audible sigh of relief as the teacher announces “now rest in Savasana.”
Those magical five minutes (10 or 15 if you’re lucky) of complete relaxation when your body is able to assimilate everything you just did on your yoga mat—all of those incremental physical, physiological, emotional, and energetic changes that take place during practice—as you allow your body to rest. A really deep, long Savasana can be a refreshing, restorative opportunity to recharge the body and calm the mind.
Supporting the Pose
The calming effects of resting in Savasana can be quite therapeutic and can help restore balance to the nervous system. But the key is totally letting go—releasing all physical tension in the body. This often requires a little bit of support.
For many, lying flat on the floor creates tension somewhere in the body. While you may feel completely comfortable in Savasana, the nervous system picks up on even the slightest amount of tension, which keeps it alert. Placing something of appropriate size under the knees, low back, neck, or head often offers just the right amount of support to elicit a nervous system release, which will in turn invite the muscles, sensory organs, and mind to drop into relaxation.
Benefits of Savasana
Where to begin? There are so many benefits to Savasana, it’s hard to summarize it all in a short paragraph. Savasana is one of yoga’s most important elements of self-care and should be considered one of the most important postures to include in your daily practice. In our fast-paced, technology-centric, modern times, our minds and energy are constantly being pulled in multiple directions. When tension, fatigue, and mental stress are on the rise, it offers just the right counter-pose.
All that said, is Savasana an easy yoga pose to accomplish? Not necessarily. While it may offer deep rest and a chance to let go physically, mentally, and emotionally, not everyone is ready for such a release at all times. If your mind is racing or your anxiety level is elevated, lying quietly on your back may be one of the biggest challenges of your yoga practice. If you are having trouble with it, a bit of patience with yourself will help you find your way to a resting position. At times you may opt to keep your eyes partially open. You may also find that one of the alternative versions of the asana described in the Yoga 2.0 tab is a more calming resting position for you.
Savasana offers the perfect moment to practice mindfulness, gently scanning the physical body for sensations, guiding the awareness to the mind next, and finally to the heart. This moment to check in can have profound effects on the mind. Studies on mindfulness have shown it can reduce anxiety and depression. It has even been used in treating patients who are struggling with addiction.
Senior teacher and author Judith Hanson Lasater advocates for practicing Savasana for at least 15 minutes. This is because it can take most people 12 to 15 minutes to experience physiological relaxation. Of course, this depends on an individual’s nervous system, and the type of practice they’ve engaged in prior to Savasana. It may take longer than that for people whose nervous systems are more sensitive, or for someone who’s engaged in a very active practice, especially if there was a lot of stimulation, such as loud music, during the practice.
When you first lie down in Savasana, your body, nervous system and mind usually feel some residual stimulation, no matter how intense or quiet your previous practice was. Gradually, over time, the nervous system winds down, the heart and breathing rates slow and the blood pressure drops. At this point your body is in a state of physiological relaxation.
Physiological relaxation then gives way to pratyahara, the fifth of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, where awareness deepens. At this stage, you still experience whatever sensations are arising, but they no longer disturb or distract you.
In the final stage of Savasana, the mind lets go. In this stage, relaxation is deepest, and you may feel “disconnected” from the outside world. If you are in a class, your teacher’s voice or a bell will bring you back to normal consciousness. If you are practicing at home, you will generally begin to feel that your body is ready to move again. At that point, you can roll onto your side and gently move to a sitting position.
Basic Corpse Pose
- It’s important to establish a position for your Savasana that will allow you to totally relax your body and mind. You may, for example, enjoy putting a rolled-up yoga mat or blanket under your knees, to soften the arch in your low back. If you can’t rest the back of your head on the floor easily without tilting your head back in a chin-up position, try placing a folded blanket under the back of your head. Make sure to only add enough padding to allow you to maintain a natural curve in your neck.
- Arms are traditionally kept a few inches from the body with the palms facing upward to allow your shoulder blades to settle onto the back body. But based on your own physical condition, you may do well to rest one or both hands on your belly. You’ll know you have found your perfect Savasana when you feel comfortable relaxing into the floor.
- Eyes are traditionally closed. Some people enjoy the gentle weight of an eye bag placed over the eyes to encourage relaxation. That said, if you do not want to close your eyes, fix your gaze on something that won’t excite your attention. Alternately, close your eyes part way.
- When you start your Savasana, you may find that your body is restless or your mind active. It’s fine to notice that there are thoughts swirling in your head without following or engaging in those thoughts. As for the feeling of being restless, try some small adjustments in your joints to bring your body into a more restful state. It may be that your Savasana today is with your legs draped on a chair, or your head elevated slightly to assist your breathing. The position is less important than the act of giving your body a pause in order to digest and assimilate your yoga practice.
- When you are ready to end your Savasana, do some gentle movement of your body, allowing your energy to come back to the external surface and your breath to quicken. Bring one, then the other, knee to your chest. Roll over onto one side and use your top hand to press your body into a sitting position.
- Many yogis enjoy taking a few moments of silent sitting here to close their yoga practice.