If there’s one fitness resolution we should try to stick with, it should be to stay in savasana. Writer Parisa Hashempour explores its benefits.
Hands up if the moment you’re invited to lie down at the end of a yoga session, you’re up, dressed and heading out of the studio/closing the laptop. Oh, so that would be most of us. There’s nothing like being asked to relax to make us feel tetchy.
For some, savasana is the best kind of calm. But living such busy lives means that we often squeeze in a yoga flow between finishing work and cooking dinner, or ahead of meeting pals. Anything we can do to buy back time is a good thing – and often, that means swerving a post that feels a lot like doing nothing.
Typically done at the end of class, in savasana, you lie flat on your back in near stillness with feet and hands extended a few inches from the body, palms facing upwards.
But you know what? We may just need that time lying on the mat. We spoke with the experts to find out why the grounding pose is such an important part of yoga and how even the most impatient among us can incorporate it into future workouts.
What exactly is savasana?
“The word savasana in Sanskrit comes from two words: ‘shava’ meaning corpse and ‘asana’ which means seat or posture,” explains yoga teacher and Yoga Mapp founder Shruti Srivastava, who has been practising yoga since childhood.
First used in famous 15th century yoga text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “it’s stated that lying like a corpse ‘removes the fatigue caused by other asanas and induces calmness of mind’,” says Srivastava, adding “BKS Iyengar [a world-famous Indian yoga instructor] couldn’t have said it better in his seminal book, Light On Yoga, when he explained: ‘The stresses of modern civilisation are a strain on the nerves for which Savasana is the best antidote.’”
In the pose, your jaw, tongue, eyelids, fingers and toes – your entire body, in fact – should all be relaxed as you focus on breathing with the aim of promoting a meditative state. Alice Chadwick, an Iyengar instructor at London-based Live Yoga Teachers, explains that in the five or 10 minutes of maintaining the lying pose, “the body must be consciously relaxed – the skin, the muscles and the bones – but the mind remains alert, observing the breath”.
Savasana benefits both body and mind – here’s how
From calming the nervous system, which experts say helps mitigate your fight or flight response, stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which they tout as helping with digestion and immunity, to releasing lactic acid build-up after a strenuous yoga class, practitioners say that savasana has both short and long-term benefits.
“Most importantly, in savasana, we allow breath to flow without obstruction or restraint,” says Chadwick. “Expelling old, spent oxygen and drawing in new supplies of revitalising breath, known as prana or life-force, is the best way to re-energise ourselves.”
Savasana’s proximity to the ground, she adds, is no coincidence either. “When large areas of the body are in contact with the earth, or floor, a calmness is felt. The body becomes, quite literally, grounded.” This, she says, helps us let go of things that are bothering us. And it’s this body-mind connection that teachers say makes the pose so meaningful.
“The goal of any workout is not merely the training of the body, but also the training of the mind,” explains Leila Sadeghee, a yoga instructor with more than 25 years’ experience as a spiritual practitioner. It’s a thought echoed across the discipline; instructors advocate for long-term benefits such as stress and anxiety reduction, or even, as Srivastava discovered, navigating emotional trauma.
“After my mum passed away, savasana unknowingly became a space for me to release emotionally,” she explains. “On my first yoga retreat in Spain, I would close my eyes at the end of each class and just cry uncontrollably.”
The pose’s name took on a whole new meaning for Srivastava, who says: “As morbid as it sounds, in the first year or so of grieving, I would often think of my mum taking her own last breaths while I was lying in the pose. I’ve learned that not only was I releasing emotional trauma but that this is another important characteristic of savasana. It creates space for us to face our own mortality, even if just for a couple of minutes at the end of class.”
Time-poor or impatient? How to make space for savasana
Once it is a part of your routine, explains Chadwick, savasana easily becomes as effortless as cleaning your teeth. “You’ll begin to feel the benefits, and after a while, will want to pass through it before the rest of your day continues.” In the meantime, she says: “Set a timer, just a few minutes before the end of your practice, and gradually build up.”
Sadeghee says that attending a class can help ensure you stick to savasana, especially classes with more restful components, like yin or yoga nidra. “Ask your teachers for guidance; instructions can be helpful for this pose, as with every other yogic practice.”
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If you have the budget, one-to-one yoga classes could turn savasana into a treat, adds Srivastava: “Students love a gentle, nurturing massage in corpse pose. This could be for the scalp, temples, or soles of the feet – or full body if they can remain in the pose for longer!”
Covering the eyes can also make the experience more calming, she adds. “The light pressure on the third eye [the space in the centre of your forehead] helps to keep the mind focused on the sensation,” she says.
Other tips from the experts include keeping eyes open and softly gazing at the ceiling if it feels easier, or reframing savasana as a luxury you are allowing yourself. Ask yourself: “What can I not let go of that is stopping me from remaining on my mat? What am I running away from by not spending a few moments resting comfortably with myself?”
It’s OK if savasana doesn’t feel ‘right’
If savasana is really not your thing, there’s no need to feel guilty. “Try seated meditation as an alternative,” says Sadeghee. This could be a segue to moving into savasana – or, not. “Ultimately you are a free and sovereign being, so use your time as you see fit,” she says.
“If you are skipping savasana due to time, and you feel that you are growing in your practice and understanding of self, and your life is deepening in resonance and presence, there’s no problem. If you notice a lack of integration, or you start to see schisms in the way you show up in your life off the mat, maybe adding savasana can help.”
For more yoga tips, check out the Strong Women Training Club.