The savasana signal to snooze… or not?

In the yoga classes I’ve attended, the only time an approving murmur resounds through the room is at the words “Now let’s come into savasana…” What follows is a general calm taking over, interspersed by the occasional snore, But savasana is more than just the adult’s version of naptime – it prepares and leads us into yoga nidra, where the body’s healing process functions at its optimum.

Sava = corpse

Savasana = Corpse pose

To enter this pose, lie supine on your back in a neutral position and arrange your arms to the side of your body at a 45 degree angle with palms facing up to the ceiling. Your legs are about hip width apart and the body is completely relaxed.  Being supine allows for the lowest possible center of gravity. With the body lying almost fully in contact with the floor, the postural muscles in the back are able to relax without having to counteract against gravity.[1] The primary curves of the spines (the curve of the back of the head, the upper back and the sacrum) are supported by the floor, while the secondary curves of the spine (the cervical and lumbar spine) rest away from the floor.[2]

The assimilation of prana is a way of understanding the importance of savasana. An intangible form of energy, prana can be likened to the intrinsic bonds between cells. During asana practice, the body is energised and purified through heat from physical exertion. Pranic expansion occurs from this increase in kinetic energy through vibration of cells from the heat. Savasana is the diametric; this period of cooling down balances the increase in prana and allows the body to momentarily recuperate. The body becomes a “receptive sponge (that) soaks up”[3] prana created from asana practice.

While remaining in this state, it has been argued that savasana “reduces all muscle tension, improves venous circulation, tones the whole nervous system and relieves fatigue (while) the heart is rested and the distribution of blood is uniform.”[4] This is consistent with the aim of achieving a parasympathetic nervous state from practicing yoga, and there is some indication that savasana appears to promote parasympathetic nervous activity.[5]

Relaxing to achieve the physical pose is straightforward enough. The challenge comes from marrying this relaxation to the mind concurrently and moving into yoga nidra, or yogic sleep. Between the states of consciousness and unconsciousness both body and mind is relaxed but not asleep, remaining in a deep state of consciousness. By relaxing and removing the focus from physical sensations, there is no body to experience physical pain, and no mind to create mental resistance. Existing completely in the present requires a calm mind, one that is aware but not doing anything. But it is deceptively difficult to actually put this into practice. Even concentrating on your breath, to smoothen, deepen and lengthen each inhalation and exhalation requires thought and focus. This is probably “the most difficult breathing exercise of all: the act of being fully aware of – but not controlling – the breath’s movements.”[6]

When I first started yoga, I was perpetually restless during savasana despite it being just a short 5-minute duration. Either I was antsy from not the feeling of not being able to do anything, or my body would be relaxed while my mind flooded with thoughts. The other extreme would be sliding off into sleepy unconsciousness after a long day. Thankfully, my understanding of the pose grew along with my interest in yoga and with better appreciation for its benefits, I have been able to come out of savasana actually feeling relaxed. May you fully embrace savasana in concluding your practice too!

 

Lyn
200 TTC Weekday


[1] Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews, Yoga Anatomy, 2nd ed, 181.

[2] Kaminoff and Matthews, 37.

[3] Gregor Meghe, Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy, 129-130.

[4] Vempati and Telles; quoting Swami Rama, Asanas & their therapeutic value: The royal path-practical lessons on yoga, second ed. 

[5] Vempati, R.P., Telles, S., 2002. Yoga-based guided relaxation reduces sympathetic activity judged from baseline levels. Psychological Reports 90 (2), 487–494;

Geetanjali Sharma, K.K. Mahajan, Luv Sharma, Shavasana—Relaxation technique to combat stress;  This study found decreased sympathetic nervous system activity depending on subject’s baseline levels; Ten minutes of savasana reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressures, pulse and respiration rates more than supine resting.

[6] Kaminoff and Matthews, 183.

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