In praise of Savasana

Savasana, the name itself (meaning corpse pose in Sanskrit) is a downer, morbid, death-invoking. It usually comes at the end of class and is a kind of “do-nothing” pose that sends some practitioners heading for the door, mat rolled up and tucked under arm.

Photo:  class in corpse pose
Savasana – the reward of yoga. Jessica Apostolopoulos leads a class into repose at Thrive Yoga.

For instance, Carre Otis wrote in The Girl Who Hated Savasana: “Come on. We all know her. The one that’s stepping over yoga mats and making way for the nearest exit as other practitioners get settled and lie down on their backs with their lavender eye pillows and other accoutrements. Perhaps some of you have even been her (him) at points in your life.”

But I’ve come to consider savasana as the core of my practice. It’s helpful to remember that in Indian culture of reincarnation death is just a phase of passage to another life cycle. In a wave pattern, it is that low point, before surging back to the other extreme: death and birth, sleep and activity, darkness and light, you get the idea.

In a yoga practice, savasana is a pause that allows the body and assorted organs to return to homeostasis, for the blood stream to whisk away toxins and replenish the cells with nutrients and oxygen, to steady the breath and cool the skin.

Setting a baseline

But I find that the pose has a valuable use as a baseline. Lying on your back, you are in a horizontal version of mountain pose, but gravity exerts a different kind of force on the body.  You can carry out an inventory of how your body makes contact with the ground. Sue Hitzman, creator of the MELT Method,  a self-treatment technique (more on Hitzman and MELT in another blog entry), points out that some areas are in firm contact with the mat, what she calls “masses” (head, rib cage, hips, thighs, calves, heels.) while other areas she calls “spaces” (the arches of the neck, lumbar, knees, ankles) are suspended above the mat. Just mapping out how your body distributes those masses and spaces can tell you a lot.

Here are some things that I picked up from my savasana practice:

I remember back a couple of years ago that my legs really did not lay flat on the mat, but arched from the hips to heels. At one workshop, I  rested my heels off the mat in savasana and ended up with bruises on my heels because a large part of my legs’ weight was bearing down on my heels.  The cause was that my hips were tilted. That should have been a hint that I was badly out of alignment. Only after extensive bodywork has that trait been corrected.

In the early day of my practice, I found it hard to lay still though savasana. I would get a twitch in one or both legs, and break my concentration. Most of the time, a good yoga session would bleed off the nervous tension that had built up in my legs and I could release into the pose.

Even after dealing with the most obvious obstacles to stillness, I have had to account for the general numbing of body sensation, especially the deeper stirrings, because of my peripheral neuropathy. You can hardly expect to understand your body if it is shrouded in unfeeling.

Photo: T-shirt with
Thrive YTT momento: I love savasana

Today, I have incorporate savasana into a nightly routine. Savasana is where I start and end each session. Part of that process is taking an inventory of my body, where I feel tired or tense, where I feel numb or dull, how my frame lays on the ground and my arms and legs mesh with the torso, how the curve of my spine arches and falls, whether my hips release their tight grip on psoas and abdominal muscles. I treat myself to some self-therapy with a roller, Yoga Tune-Up® Balls or strap. Other times, it just an opportunity to clinch and release every muscle and sinew in my body.

If I decide that I am too tired or it’s too late, and I go to bed without my routine, I usually find myself re-awakened at 2:00 am and get down on the mat to do a few poses.

It is probably appropriate that my teacher training crew capped off our summer intensive by having T-shirts made with the slogan “I [heart] savasana.” With the intensity of our month-long training, we came to appreciate the full restorative value of laying on your back, just chillin’, and letting the body work its wonders.

Extra points

I find that photographing savasana is a tough assignment. I feel uncomfortable intruding on chilled-out practitioners by snapping shots. Everyone is prone on the ground so it presents issues with framing the shot, and I can go jumping around the room to get a good angle. There’s no visible action, no movement, no drama.  While writing this piece, I spent 15 minutes looking through the shots already upload to the blog, and not one corpse pose.

Then, there are these videos: