In the beginning yoga class that I teach, a student I’ll call Chris finds savasana uncomfortable. Neither lumbar pain nor mental agitation is the culprit. She tucks her shoulders to open her chest, and she looks fine. But she never feels quite right.
She’s a side sleeper, so lying supine doesn’t come naturally to her. So, I am trying to help her find ease in stage one of savasana, the basic physical form.
Savasana and me
In my home practice (done at a community center, as I discuss in the footnoted posts), I skip savasana because I’m in a public setting. While I continue my downward dogs and backbends regardless of passersby, I am certainly aware of them; I’ll engage in small talk with the staff and custodians, or move to another space if I’m in the way. But I’m hesitant to lie flat on my back with closed eyes even for a minute. Savasana requires privacy, a sense of safety, no interruptions or inhibitions.
During classes, I’ve always welcomed savasana (unlike Chris, I am a back sleeper and lying flat on my back is a relief). But has my savasana practice developed over the years? During my first classes at a university gym, the setting was minimalist: large studio or even basketball court; only mats and straps; no heating system. But the teaching was excellent, and savasana was an “experience.” My body temperature would palpably drop during savasana, signaling the shift from action to relaxation.
Today that shift comes less consistently. While I can execute other asanas better than I could as a novice, my savasana has somewhat stagnated.
The meaning of corpse in corpse pose
Savasana translates to “corpse pose,” but yogis often brush off that word. Corpse = death. Relaxation has become the focus. In an online article, Judith Hanson Lasater wrote the following practical advice:
“[T]eaching savasana teaches much more than relaxation. It teaches clearly and concretely the importance of being[,] not just doing. Our culture is very much a “doing” culture; we value action and results over being and awareness. Savasana may be the only time during the week that the student is quiet and present, not acting, not achieving, not sleeping, just being present. This is the beginning of meditation and an extremely important gift you can give to your class. Always allow 20 minutes for deep relaxation.”
But should we also consider the corpse part? In her essay “Savasana,” Shambala Sun, July 2003, Tara Bray discusses this pose in light of her mother’s death at age 36, when she was 13. Here, doing savasana means facing the “little death” and contemplating one’s mortality.
Oakland yogi Richard Rosen’s thorough discussion, “Shavasana: Corpse Pose,” describes this pose as a symbolic dying, to release oneself from habitual ways of thinking and acting, to promote “genuine physical and psychological rest and self-recognition of our authentic nature.” Read his piece for detailed instructions and thoughtful comments on this ubiquitous but oversimplified pose.
Image: Paul Komarek
I had a savasana breakthrough of sorts when I moved my hands out farther away from my body. They felt tense and restless close to my hips, where I used to hold them. Moving each hand about 18 inches away from the side of my body helped me relax.
I’m pretty new to yoga (6 months or so), and I hadn’t really even given much thought to savasana. Your post has definitely given me something to chew on, here. Thanks!
you know, savasana has always meant anxiety, stress and pain for me. I could count on my hand the number of “good” savasana’s that i’ve had.
Recently, my lower back has had some pinching going on, and a bolster or blankets aren’t helping. I just wish there was a bit more receptiveness to doing something other than savasana. I have meditated while seated a few times (during a period where I had bruised intercostal muscles and lying down was NOT an option), but i get the impression it isn’t encouraged…
in any case, this sunday during class i’ll have to speak to the instructor before hand just to explain…. 🙂
savasana was the most difficult pose for me when I first began practicing yoga, and the more I struggled and sought out a “good” savasana, the more my anxiety and thoughts prevented it.
just recently I had my first “a-ha” savasana, where I let myself go and felt myself just…melt and surrender. it didn’t last for the entire savasana, but it was an amazing experience nonetheless.
: ) love your blog!
I love, love, love savasana! It is the frosting on my practice 😀
As a teacher, I find that students struggle the most with savasana. For the exact reasons you list. It is just so hard for them to just rest…to receive…to let yoga give them a little something. That surrender was really hard for me when I first started too. But, somewhere along my journey, I hit that place where I just “got” it.
Oh me too. It seems that it is at its best when I have had to work really hard (for whatever reason) in class. The magic happens….
Perhaps when lying on the floor is not appropriate (such as your case at the community center) or is uncomfortable for any variety of reasons, sitting in easy pose (classic meditation pose) may derive some of the same benefits – allowing the body to absorb the practice while encouraging inward contemplation.
Which is what savasana means to me right now – absorbing the practice while looking inward.
Great blog! Found it through Emmanuelle’s. I am taking a HYTT course right now and often blog about it and food. I’ve been told that Svasana is the most important post, for me, at least, to deal with being able to BE.
I also like your post below- Ihave a horrible relationship with food…I just ate breakfast with WW toast and cashew butter and yogurt and berries and fruit…and now I feel like I “scarfed it ” and ate too much :(…and like I’ve ”ruined another opportunity”…and yes I know all the “tips” and “rules” – mindful eating, sitting down, etc…but I struggle …especially when people say “yeah that was wrong…why do you do that? why didn’t you just sit and get this instead?”…uh, thanks for making me feel worse! Ugh.
Anyways, I also just read that book enLIGHTened and was planning to review it on my site. Have a good day .
You really need to write a book. Heartfelt insights…much like Elizabeth Gilbert, Flannery O’Connor…thank you for your work.