The Healing Path of SavasanaAug 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By David Penn
There are many styles of yoga, but regardless of the style, most yoga classes end with savasana, or “corpse pose.” Sometimes seen as simply a break or even skipped altogether by some students, the pose is often misunderstood. During savasana, students frequently find themselves falling asleep or starting to make plans for their day after they leave class.
There is growing consensus that savasana provides a wealth of benefits. According to Atlanta healthcare products and services provider Vydya Health, the health and wellness rewards are wide-ranging. These include improved memory and concentration, reduced heart rate and blood pressure, and decreased stress and anxiety.
Physiotherapist Dr. Ankit Sankhe, director of First Home Healthcare in Mumbai, India, says that savasana “can offer several benefits, including managing diabetes, depression and insomnia. It may also help in lowering blood pressure and decreasing headache.”
Author of the bestselling book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual Therapists and Movement Professionals, Tom Myers is well known in academic circles for his cranial, visceral and intrinsic movement studies. Myers says, “The main benefit of savasana is an act of self-remembering, a chance for the nervous system to appreciate the changes wrought by the exercise, for proprioception, interoception and the autonomic balance to restore itself.”
Atlanta transplant Michael Hughes is vice president of communications and publications at Tompkins Ventures. Hughes has been practicing yoga several days a week at metro Atlanta studios for the past seven years. He extols the virtues of the near-universal final pose. “I sit at a desk all day. I have ‘computer neck’ and ‘computer back.’ With savasana, my spine feels straighter, more like it should be. My lower back is always better.” The busy executive further explains, “It’s a kind of collapse, an ending. All the work is summed up in a relaxation. It’s an experience that helps me leave with a clear mind.”
Atlanta native June Williams has been practicing yoga for 45 years. “It’s been off and on; I’ve practiced martial arts, step aerobics and others. These were interruptions to yoga. I always came back to yoga. Savasana holds a special, calming place for me.” Williams, an avid gardener who turned 80 this year, explains her method. “My feet fall open, my arms relaxed beside me, my palms facing the ceiling. I pull my shoulder blades together; this sends my heart up, and my chest expands. This way, I’m more receptive to the messages of the practice that just took place during class.”
A Brief History of Corpse Pose
Erica Morton Magill is an anthropologist and savasana researcher at SOAS University of London. According to Magill, savasana first appeared in the 13th century in the text Dattatreya Yoga Shastra, which mentions that over eight million yoga poses, or asanas, exist. Surprisingly, savasana and viparita karani, the legs-up-the-wall pose, are the only asanas mentioned explicitly in the document. It wasn’t until 200 years later, in 1450, that the pose was given a description, albeit brief, in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written by the Indian yogic sage Swami Swatmarama.
“It appears there as a pose for the first time, where it has therapeutic benefit, and it looks like the pose that we know today,” says Magill. Quoting the translation of the Sanskrit text, “‘Lying on the ground like a corpse is savasana. It gives rest to the mind and combats fatigue.’ That’s the definition in The Hatha Yoga Pradipika. From that point onward, most texts replicate that basic template.”
“Whether it’s Ashtanga, Iyengar, raja, yin, Jivamukti, a Pilates and yoga class, you will always practice this one pose. We’re engaging in this practice of letting go, of surrendering. We need to lay down; we need to rest; we are depleted. In modernity, it’s this archetypal, emblematic pose for all of our collective fears, needs, desires, concerns,” says Magill.
Savasana Instruction from an Expert
Dr. Hansaji Jayadeva Yogendra is president of the International Board of Yoga and director of The Yoga Institute, the oldest organized yoga center in the world, located in Mumbai, India. She details a concise but complete method to find savasana:
Lie down with your back on the mat. Extend your arms slightly away from the body, with the palms facing upwards. Stretch your legs out with distance between them. Eyes will remain closed. Let go of your body towards gravity. The shoulders are relaxed. Go to your toes, then to your ankles, then to your calf muscles, then to the knee. Feel each muscle, and then tell that part to relax. After the limbs, go to your trunk. Come to navel, come to stomach, come to chest. Come to heart area, then come to your throat, come to your chin. Lips, nose, eyes, eyelids, eyebrows, forehead, top of the head. You may wish to focus on the tip of your nose or observe the rise and fall of the abdomen. If other thoughts come into your mind, come back and regain your focus. Remain here for 10 minutes. At the end of your savasana, gently move your fingers and toes. Turn on to your right side for a moment. Slowly sit up and open your eyes. This is how you are slowly having this journey. And in this journey, you consciously relax.
Practitioners may find savasana challenging. The difficulty most often lies in shutting off the chatter in the mind and connecting to the stillness of the moment. The focus on the body and breath is not common practice in Western culture. However, with practice, the benefits are wide-ranging and available to all. ❧
David Penn, E-RYT 200, founded Sun Dragon Yoga studio in 2015. He offers private instruction at homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and offers classes online. Contact him at 313-303-0096.