A Guide to Final Relaxation in Yoga
Although it looks delightfully easy, Savasana, or the Corpse Pose, is one of the most difficult asanas to perform because final relaxation in yoga is not so much a pose as a journey. It facilitates an ongoing process of loosening the body, mind and spirit into its natural state of relaxation. In addition, it symbolizes the philosophy of letting go instead of holding on to things that do not serve peace of mind and wellbeing.
“Corpse pose restores life. Dead parts of your being fall away, the ghosts are released.”
—The Quote Garden
The Importance of Savasana
What goes on in the mind is what will manifest in the body. Positive and loving thoughts and emotions create a healthy and energetic body; whereas thoughts of worry and stress cause disease, sickness and ailments. Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher, validated that a person’s emotional energy and vibrations can actually modify the physical structure of water. If the human body is composed primarily of water, then the healing effect of a positive mind on the body is limitless, not to mention miraculous.
Stress manifests in the body in different ways. Some people may hunch their shoulders or constrict their necks; some may inadvertently clench their jaws; and yet others may carry stress in their forehead or between the eyebrows. Yoga, particularly the practice of Savasana, brings awareness to where these areas of tension are and teaches the body to consciously let go. With regular practice, the mind subconsciously enhances this control to also include complete relaxation of the body’s systems, internal organs and involuntary muscles.
The Benefits of Savasana
It is said that just a few minutes of deep and complete relaxation is more restful and healing than a full night’s sleep. Proper practice of Savasana supports the relaxation of three essential realms of being: physical, mental and spiritual.
- Physical: releases both conscious and subconscious tension in the body
- Mental: eradicates the mind of negative thoughts and vibrations
- Spiritual: detaches the yogi from the confines of her/his own ego
Reducing stress and relieving physical tension are its principal benefits. But this pose also preserves the body’s energy, promotes deeper sleep, increases mental clarity and instills a state of calmness and peace that lasts through the ups and downs of day-to-day life.
Moreover, it encourages the breathing and the pulse rate to slow down. As a result, there are fewer breaths to take and fewer pumps for the heart to beat. If each person has only a certain number of breaths and heartbeats in a lifetime, this logic concludes that the regular and consistent practice of Savasana actually prolongs life!
How to Practice Final Relaxation
Savasana is practiced several times within a basic session of Sivananda Yoga, but most profoundly at the end. During final relaxation, the body’s muscles have already been stretched and strengthened and are more receptive to welcome and absorb the benefits of complete relaxation.
Some yogis find incredible worth in using music during Savasana as it easily settles the body and mind into a place of stillness and heightens the state of consciousness. Others may wish to practice in complete silence as it allows the thoughts to be heard loud and clear. Both methods have their advantages and either one can be used depending on the practitioner.
- Begin by lying down on the back with the feet mat-width apart and the arms comfortably at the sides of the body.
- Be sure to position the body into perfect symmetry. A symmetrical position makes optimal use of the body’s space and creates a proper balance between the right and left energies.
- Gently rotate the legs in and out a few times before letting them fall outward to the sides while keeping them symmetrical. Do the same with the arms. Allow the feet to fall open and keep the palms facing upwards.
- Turn the head slowly from left to right a few times before letting it finally settle at the centre.
- Lengthen the body from the heels to the crown of the head. Keep the shoulder blades down and ensure that the back is wide and flat on the mat. The nape of the neck should be long and plenty of space should be allowed around the ears and neck.
- Bring the focus onto deep, steady and rhythmic abdominal breathing.
At this point, it is essential to consciously relax the body. But in order to know and appreciate what relaxation feels like, it’s necessary to know what its opposite feels like. Hence the next process of first tensing, then relaxing each part of the body.
- Start with the feet and legs. Lift the right foot an inch off the floor, flex and tense the entire leg, hold, then let it drop completely. Do the same with the left leg.
- Move to the right arm. Lift the hand an inch off the floor, make a tight fist, tense the arm, hold, then let it drop completely. Do the same with the left arm.
- Clench the hips and buttocks and lift it about an inch. Hold, then release and relax.
- Tighten and lift the back and chest. Hold, then release and relax.
- Lift and hunch the shoulders up around the neck. Hold, then release and relax. Pull each arm down and away from the ears to lengthen and allow more space around the neck.
- Tuck in the chin, tense the jaw and muscles of the face, make a frown, and pull the eyebrows together. Hold, then release and relax.
After this process, make any adjustments needed to keep the body as long and symmetrical as possible. Then begin with mental repetitions of relaxing each part of the body, particularly those problem areas. Start with the toes and continue all the way up to the crown of the head:
“I relax my toes. I relax my toes. My toes are relaxed.
I relax my feet. I relax my feet. My feet are relaxed…”
Never become impatient, disappointed or angry when part of the body subconsciously tenses up or when the mind starts to wander elsewhere. This is normal and some days it may happen more often than others. Respond by patiently bringing the mind back to the present moment and continue to scan the body while practicing deep abdominal breathing.
Eventually, relaxation allows gravity to do its work, inciting a pleasant sensation of lightness, expansion, and blissfully melting into the earth. Each inhalation should feel like the entire body is being nourished with fresh oxygen; each exhalation should allow the tension to melt away.
- Spend at least ten minutes in Savasana.
- Gently bring life back into the fingers and toes with slow movements.
- Roll over onto the right side to keep the heart free of pressure and the body’s energy calm.
- Pause, then take as much time as needed to gradually sit up, give thanks for the practice and end the session.
Remember to preserve a sense of Savasana throughout the day and throughout life. Yogis usually find that the physical, mental and spiritual state achieved during this invaluable yoga pose not only bestows gifts of abundant energy, healing and good health, but also becomes a sanctuary of peace, serenity and repose that is always there when needed.