Savasana: Are You Doing it Right?

If you’ve ever wondered whether you’re relaxing “correctly” in the final relaxation posture (aka śavāsana) in yoga class, this post is for you!

Śavāsana (shah-VAH-sah-nah), which translates as Corpse Posture, is the relaxation posture typically used at the end of the yoga āsana (AH-sah-nah) practice. It can also be used as a resting posture any time throughout āsana practice.

In this posture, the body lies supine (face up) with the arms and legs relaxed and positioned slightly out toward the sides. Palms typically face up. The neck should be in a neutral position, so for people who have a lot of tightness in their neck and/or shoulders, it may be necessary to use a small prop behind the head, such as a folded blanket or small pillow.

That said, there are many, many variations for śavāsana.

There are variations in purpose (Why are we doing this śavāsana? What do we hope to achieve?).

There are variations in method (How do we want to accomplish the goal of this śavāsana?).

There are variations is body positioning (Should we lie flat? Use props? Lie still? Change position?).

So if you’ve ever wondered whether you’re relaxing “correctly,” the answer is, “It depends!”

Purposes of Śavāsana

There are three main purposes of Śavāsana.

The first is to establish a sense of deep relaxation, which is great for people who are very stressed, ill, or who are recovering from illness or injury.

The second is to allow the body time to rest and regain homeostasis (resting heart rate, resting rate of respiration) after performing vigorous āsana postures or sequences.

The third is to practice focusing the mind, which is beneficial for all people.

Śavāsana for Deep Relaxation

If the goal of Śavāsana is deep relaxation, the teacher may do a guided relaxation practice. In this case, you’ll be lying still for at least 10 minutes, so you’ll want to position your body in a very comfortable way.

For example, you might consider lining your mat with a layer of folded blanket for more padding. You might like to elevate your legs with a bolster (or two) behind your knees or lower legs. You might even build a recliner with a block and a bolster. The possibilities are endless. Try one of more of these suggestions, or ask your teacher for personalized guidance in creating a relaxation posture that suits your needs or goals.

Once you’re in a comfortable position, the teacher will begin a slow-paced set of instructions for systematically relaxing the body. You’ll just lie still, breathe naturally, listen to the instructions, and follow along. You can close your eyes to block out visual distraction if that feels comfortable for you.

The relaxation instructions are sometimes referred to as Yoga Nidra (NIH-drah). Nidra translates as Sleep, but the goal of relaxation is not necessarily to fall sleep. (Unless you are practicing Yoga Nidra for insomnia, in which case it would be ok to relax and fall sleep. See? Like I said, It depends!)

During deep relaxation, it’s common to feel as if you’re falling asleep, or you may actually drift in and out of sleep, especially if you’re sleep deprived. You might even hear one of your classmates quietly snoring.

Nevertheless, do try to stay awake and aware of the teacher’s instructions. Allow your body and mind to deeply relax. If you do end up falling asleep, don’t stress about it, just try again next time!

Śavāsana for Resting

This type of śavāsana gained new meaning for me during my January training in India. Theidea is to rest intermittently throughout the āsana practice, pretty much any time your breathing becomes labored.

I found this practice fascinating for a number of reasons.

First, it helps the practitioner become more self-aware by noticing the inner workings of your body. You learn to notice your deeper, harder breathing. You learn to feel when your heart is working harder.

When your body experiences strain, stop and lie down for a minute or two to take a relaxation break.

This type of śavāsana is an important differentiator between yoga and exercise. In exercise, we intentionally raise our heart rate for cardiovascular health and perhaps weight loss. In yoga, we’re using the body to teach the mind to focus. This Rest Śavāsana is a perfect example of how we use the body to train the mind.

This Rest Śavāsana is a great life lesson too. Rather than “stressing out,” “pulling an all-nighter,” “needing coffee, stat!”, “shopping till we drop,” “working hard and playing hard,” and “no pain, no gain,” we train ourselves to rest once in a while. It’s a great habit to help manage our stress levels and improve our overall health.

Śavāsana for Mental Focus

From the śavāsana posture, one can perform most any kind of breathing practice, the purpose of which one would think is to improve the breathing, but perhaps more importantly, is to train the mind to focus on something subtle (breathing).

The breathing practice can be done on its own, before or after a Relaxation Śavāsana, or during or after a Rest Śavāsana.

Depending on a number of factors, the teacher might cue you to focus on some aspect of the breathing, such as how it feels, counting the duration of the breath, coordinating a simple movement with the breath, or even mentally chanting a mantra on the exhales.

These different types of focus are designed to help you train your brain, improve your ability to quiet your mind, and focus on only one thing at a time.

So now you see how the śavāsana posture is very versatile and can be used in a variety of applications. There isn’t really a “right” or “wrong” way to practice, there’s just different ways to practice.

Do you have a question about yoga you’d like me to answer? Email it to me and I’ll be happy to answer in a future newsletter. 

Have a great week!

All my best,

P.S. If you found this post useful, please share it!

What do you think about chanting?

When I was in India earlier this summer I gained a whole new understanding about two things: breathing and chanting. Last week I shared what I learned about breathing and its benefits. Today I’d like to share with you what I learned about chanting.

I first heard of chanting when I did yoga teacher training back in 2007. During a two or three hour class we learned a couple of nice chants (mantras). My favorite was the Gayatri Mantra.

And although I personally had no real challenges or objections to learning the mantras, I absolutely understand how some people might.

There is the potential concern about “singing”. People may not feel comfortable with the sound of their voice, especially in a group setting. There’s also the concern about reading and/or memorizing and pronouncing a chant that’s written in a different language (Sanskrit). There’s also the concern about not understanding exactly what it is you’re chanting. And of course the concern that the chant could potentially be some form of a prayer to a God different than your own. All legitimate concerns.

So at The Yoga Room, because we’ve wanted to be cautious to not offend or cause discomfort to any of our students, we haven’t really offered chanting, in classes or in workshops.

But what I learned in India opened my mind to the possibility. I think I may have mentioned previously that the yoga practice that was prescribed to me at the Krishnamacharya Yoga School (KYM) had two objectives: reducing the pain in my left hip and improving my relaxation (stress management).

The combination of asana (physical yoga poses) and breathing reduced my hip pain. And the breathing and chanting have been miraculous in helping me with stress management.

The chanting I was assigned is super simple. It’s easy to understand, no need to memorize anything at all, and nothing remotely prayer-like.

The chant I was assigned is Om Shanti. Om is the sound of the universe. You can read more about the meaning of Om in this helpful article. Shanti simply means peace.

Isn’t “peace” a lovely chant for a person who is working on stress management? But the benefit is derived from more than just the word alone.

When we chant, we’re doing and experiencing a few things:

  • We’re breathing in order to create sound.
  • During the exhales we’re generating sound. The control and constriction required to generate sound create a slower exhale.
  • We’re hearing the sound made by the voice.
  • We’re feeling the vibrations made by the sound.
  • We’re focusing on the creation of sound, thus we’re unable to think about/worry about any other things.

Just like the author of the Om article I linked above said, it’s easy to gain an intellectual understanding of chanting, but actual benefits can only be gained through experience.

Remember that everyone starts as a beginner; we’ve all been there. In the beginning you may struggle with short breaths, you may be unsure of your voice, but if you are persistent you will find that the duration of your breaths increases, your sound becomes stronger, and you really begin to experience the benefits of chanting.

After a few rounds you can’t help but be more focused, calm, and relaxed, and before long, you’ll be chanting in the car to maintain your peace during rush hour traffic. ;)

If chanting is something you want to try, be sure to join us for one of our Mindfulness classes starting in September. You can find a printable version of our Fall Class Schedule here. I’d love to hear your thoughts or questions about chanting! Please send me an email or post a comment!

All my best, Zelinda

P.S. In case you missed it, last week I offered a free class pass for a new-to-you class to be used during the month of September. Click here to send us a quick email if you'd like one of these free passes. Psst! It's perfect for trying out a Mindfulness class!

Oh! One more thing. Tomorrow at 2:00 pm PST, I'm doing my first Facebook Live event, where I'll be live on Facebook via video. I'll be doing a Q&A about yoga and I'll be happy to answer any questions you have, including questions about our new class schedule and even my trip to India. I'll share some exciting news, too! Click here to visit our Facebook page and make sure to like the page so you'll get a notification when we go live. And if you miss the live event, you can always check out the video later on our FB page.