That Lying Down Thing We Do

What exactly is savasana or shavasana? One translation for this posture is corpse pose, but I prefer the more technical that-lying-down-thing-we-do-at-the-end-of-class.

At first glance, it seems pretty straightforward: at the end of an hour spent stretching and moving (strenuously or not) through different poses, lie down for a final pose of relaxation. But the one pose found in every yoga class is cause for all manner of contentions among teachers: how long one should stay in savasana, when to practice savasana during class, whether or not the teacher may leave the room, how students are instructed to practice savasana, even the reasons given for why savasana should be practiced are all matters of debate.

To the uninitiated, savasana often seems like time for a glorified group nap. Like kindergartners, we grab our blankets, lie down on our sticky mat cots and close our eyes in the middle of the day while the teacher keeps watch. But that’s where the similarities end. During savasana, we’re instructed to relax the body and the mind, to let go of the constant stream of thoughts in search of a quiet place within, and to resist falling asleep.

For a pose purported to bring rest to your body and deep peace to your mind, there’s something fundamentally uncomfortable about savasana. Even from a linguistic standpoint, there’s no simple approach. Most teachers prefer the foreign Sanskrit word over the English translation, corpse pose, which feels macabre amongst all the animal poses. However, for those who delve beyond the initial discomfort of trying to still the body and mind, there are great benefits to enjoy.

According to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, savasana occupies the middle ground of consciousness, “not waking, not sleeping.” That middle ground, between waking and sleeping, is a place of mystery for most people. Through the practice of asana, the physical movements of yoga, we move beyond the demands of the body to better explore savasana’s largely uncharted territory of passive, heightened consciousness. The purpose of savasana can be anything from deep relaxation to meditation to a spiritual experience. People have used savasana to relieve stress, reduce headaches and fatigue, lower blood pressure, and even probe the limits of consciousness to connect to the spiritual world. Often used as an introductory guide to meditation, savasana is not so much a pose of the body but rather of the mind. The goal is to quiet the thoughts until there are none, not even the thought of having no thoughts.

If you’re anything like me, though, the minute you lie down and close your eyes is the same minute everything on your to-do list flickers through your mind like a movie reel!

Practicing savasana in class with a teacher makes all the difference in the world. Their presence allows you to fully relax, confident that they will guide you out of your meditation after a certain period of time. Without having to worry about how much time has gone by, you can delve more deeply into your awareness of the present moment and remind yourself again and again to let go of intrusive thoughts or worries. As adults, there are very few things that we must rely on others to do for us, such as cutting our hair. Sure, you could do it yourself, but it’s better to trust a professional. The same goes for savasana. By all means, take the time at home to relax and seek out your inner peace, but the voyage is easier when you have a guide you trust lead you there and back, without having to worry about how long it’s been or getting lost along the way.

Whether savasana is just another yoga word you’re not quite sure how to pronounce or an old friend whose company you relish, time spent in this pose is often powerful and transformative. When so many good things in life offer only delayed gratification, savasana is a shining beacon of immediacy that continues to unravel benefits for those who return time and time again. That lying down thing we do? It’s pretty awesome. Come to class and let us guide you today.

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