Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Therapeutic Yoga Practitioner, Jennifer Smallridge, shows us exactly what happens to our mind and body during those 5-10 minutes of bliss that is Savasana.
Mmm… Savasana. Also known as ‘corpse pose’ at the end of your practice, and could be mistaken for ‘napping’ – but Savasana is actually a fully conscious position in which we teeter being awake, but completely relaxed.
Your teacher might play music, use their voice, or other accompaniments such as bells or Tibetan singing bowls to guide your relaxation. Regardless of the tools used, the pose is about complete and conscious surrender. It takes practice to allow your mind and body to do this, especially if your life is a constant stream of to-do lists and deadlines, like many of us can relate to. But what’s actually happening during this 5-10 minutes of bliss?
Depending on the day, you might feel a racing mind or an urge to drift off to sleep. Regular mindfulness practice gifts us the opportunity to notice these sensations, and then let them go. Savasana invites us to get comfortable – so be sure to use bolsters, blankets, eye pillows, socks or a jumper as an act of self-care in these final moments of class.
One full, cleansing breath might also be nice to expel extra energy and melt the muscles down into the mat. Check in with common spots of tension – face, jaw, shoulders, hips; and really let your feet fall out to the sides. It’s also suggested to have the palms up, but relaxed, in a ‘receptive’ way.
Mind your mind
Meditation teacher Tara Brach has a beautiful episode of her podcast called “Smile Meditation” (you’ll have to scroll back to July 2010 if you’re searching on your phone) and she encourages a gentle smile to play across you, internally, as you relax. This attitude complements the physical practice of Savasana, and it is not uncommon to feel a range of emotions rising and falling during this part of the practice. Allow whatever needs to be felt in that moment, and then release that too.
You might come up with a good idea, or memories, or worries during this time. Take what you need and leave what you don’t. You might be distracted by external sounds (hello, loud spin class next door or roadworks out the front!), or just by your own thoughts. That’s okay too – just come back to the breath each time this happens. It’s nice with each practice to ‘leave something on the mat’ – a feeling, a problem, a limitation you might be having.
Your body will thank you
No matter the intensity or variety of yoga you’ve just completed, your body will be processing the class metabolically during this time of rest. During the various asanas (postures) of the class, the muscles ask for oxygen to generate energy for movement, your heart rate increases and your breathing rate may deepen.
Physiologically, after sustained activity, the body takes this time of rest to continue consuming a higher rate of oxygen and ‘repaying’ what it may have borrowed at the start. The body temperature may remain elevated and the blood flow is still moving around the body to remove waste products and replace nutrients.
Your blood pressure is lower during this time, due to the withdrawal of the sympathetic nervous system, which can also bring about feelings of mental wellbeing and peace.
Whilst Savasana is aptly named ‘corpse pose’, we can reframe this moment as not focused on death but of rebirth. The end of something old and the start of something new. The end of your yoga sequence and a fresh start to the day. Leaving behind unhelpful patterns and creating some new beginnings. After Savasana, it’s nice to roll on to your side to regroup. Traditional yogic practices associate lying on the right side with the ‘yang’ energy (masculine, energising, awakening), and the left side with ‘yin’ energy (feminine, gentle, introspective). You might choose a different side depending on the time of day, or what you need in that moment.
Although it looks easy, appreciate that Savasana is just as important as the other poses in your practice. Notice how in other moments of your day, you can gently surrender, relax, and tune into your breath, all thanks to the gift of Savasana! Namaste.