It’s not only the most important pose in yoga, it’s often the most difficult one. It’s called Savasana, which means Corpse Pose in Sanskrit, and it requires you to lie down on the ground and do nothing. If that idea makes you squirm, read on.
When we think of the most challenging yoga poses, we often think of arm balances and inversions. Arm balances and inversions teach us important skills, such as strength, balance, patience, courage, stamina, self-confidence, and finding ease inside of effort.
Yoga Asana (poses), such as arm balances and inversions, help us to connect with our bodies and our breath, open up the diaphragm, strip away excess nervous energy, stress, and tension, and find a singular focus, rather than multi-task. Singular focus helps to slow the mind down and supports concentration, clarity, and a sense of presence in the moment. Yet, ultimately, we do Asana to prepare ourselves for Savasana.
Teachers and students who can do the “most challenging” yoga poses, often struggle with Savasana, making it a short part of class (two minutes out of one hour), or skip it altogether. But the state of deep relaxation and restoration we can attain in Savasana is one of the greatest reasons people turn to yoga. In fact, did you know that evidence-based studies show that the number two reason people do yoga is to reduce stress? Fun fact: Guess what the number one reason is? To get flexible!
Savasana is an art. It’s not automatic. It takes practice, patience, and discipline. It’s incredible benefits happen gradually, over time, when we commit to practicing on a habitual basis. The goal is to train our bodies to be familiar with the relaxation response so that it becomes more automatic over time. I have been practicing relaxation techniques for almost twenty years and I can attest that now if I simply sit on my mat, I notice that my body and mind immediately relax and go into a parasympathetic nervous state. I’m like Pavlov’s dog!
If you’re not used to Savasana, stillness can be uncomfortable because your sympathetic nervous system may be activated and stuck on go, urging you to move, even when you want to be still. This “stuck on go” syndrome is one of the major causes of anxiety in our culture.
It is difficult if not impossible to understand the benefits of Savasana without experiencing them, which means you have to do it. Many students who engage in deep relaxation practices on a regular basis experience the release of long-held mental and physical tensions and anxieties that they have not been able to address effectively with any other modality.
Yoga gives us an intelligent roadmap to achieving deep relaxation. Ancient yogic texts tell us there are three stages:
Yoga also tells us what may get in the way of our reaching that state of bliss. These obstacles are called the Kleshas and include falling asleep, fantasizing, frustration, boredom, and (this is my personal favorite) making up stories about how what you are doing is useless. Sound familiar? If not, give this a try and you are guaranteed to experience one of the above. The key is to being conscious of these obstacles and not allowing them to let you quit.
Lie down on your back on the floor. Place your arms down at your sides, palms up. Relax your legs and let your feet drop apart. Scan your body. Notice each part. Consciously relax each part, one at a time. Bring your awareness to your breath. Feel the breath coming in through your nose and out through your nose. If your focus wanders away from the breath and you notice that, come back to the breath. Keep at it. Try it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day after that, and so on.
What happens on the mat for you will translate off the mat. Practicing Savasana will give you more patience in your life. You will understand that when you are angry, sad, frustrated, elated or joyful, breathe, be still, allow yourself to experience these emotions fully, instead of jumping up and reacting or not taking the time to feel gratitude.
My favorite reminder to my students at the end of class when they are rolling up their mats is, “now begins the practice of yoga.” I can’t take credit for that. It’s the first “guideline” in the ancient yogic texts. Yoga starts now, wherever you are, in each moment, not sometime later on when you have time or just when you are at a yoga studio. So, breathe deep, right now, be still, and experience your aliveness just for a moment.
Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.
Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.
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