This is a guest article by Aileen David:
The benefits of Savasana will always first be felt on the physical level. It brings us to a state of complete and profound relaxation, especially after a rigorous active practice. Our bodies are given the chance to settle down and absorb the benefits from the muscular activation and organ massage it just went through.This, however, is only the start of the Savasana practice. It may seem the easiest part to attain and understand, we are just relaxing anyway, right? But this relaxed state can be so absolute that it is common for Sadhakas or yoga practitioners to fall asleep. Apart from the slight embarrassment one may feel after realising they’d fallen asleep, there really is nothing “wrong” with this. However it is preferable to be awake. Apart from the reasons in the next two parts of this article, other reasons are:
- We can train ourselves to consciously activate the parasympathetic nervous system; the so called “rest and relax or rest and digest” action of the nervous system.
This calms our nerves and emotions, helps to clear our minds and normalises body functions such as heart rate, breath rate and digestive functions.
- We can train our mind to concentrate and focus, gathering our thoughts to a single place and giving us “head space” to sort things out.
- We are able to truly appreciate the quiet and still space our mind and body goes into. This space allows us to “spring clean” our emotions, even ones we are not consciously aware of. There is anecdotal evidence of yoga practitioners having sudden releases of emotions – joy, anger, grief during the practice of Savasana. These emotions are replaced with an unexplainable and profound sense of comfort and peace.
Practice Tip: To prevent the mind from completely shutting down and falling asleep, do either a triangular breathing or square breathing technique. Choose a count from 3 to 5; your inhalations, pauses and exhalations will be this count. If you find the number you chose is too short or too long, adjust it. For a triangular breath, inhale for your chosen count; hold the inhalation for the same amount of time then exhale, again for the same count. The square breath is similar; the only difference is that the exhalation or the “emptiness” of the lungs is also held for your chosen count before inhaling again. These breathing techniques are soft and soothing while keeping the mind and body awake.
The Gift of Stillness, Peace and Acceptance
Bringing our awareness fully in the present moment keeps the mind still which in turn keeps the emotions quiet. It is a “trickle down” effect – what we think triggers our emotions. Erratic and undisciplined thought make our emotions swing wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other, and as well all know, emotions can trigger chemical reactions in the body with results ranging from pimple breakouts to hypertension.Being a form of meditation, Savasana trains us to anchor our mind to the present, that middle section of the “emotional swing”, and just observe.
Practice Tip: From your mind’s eye, observe what thoughts come in but don’t analyse; observe the beating of your heart, the breath traveling through your nasal passages to your lungs. Then reach your mind outward – observe the connection of your body to the mat, the tone and harmony of the music you have on, the scent of oils or incense, the ticking of a clock, the world outside. Again, discipline the mind to just observe and be aware of how thing are; just as they are– no good or bad, no planning for the next moment, no criticising.
This practice of awareness and observance creates a barrier – a breathing space – between our consciousness and the mind, the emotions and the stress triggers of the outside world. It does not mean that we become cold and unfeeling. On the contrary, because of the stillness, peace and acceptance Savasana gifts us with our spirit is liberated from mental and emotional baggage, freeing it tofeel more compassion, kindness and joy for ourselves and others regardless of the day-to-day realities we find ourselves in.
The Gift of Letting Go
Savasana, the Corpse Pose, is arguably the trickiest pose to master. Why? Because Savasana is also the discipline and grace of letting go. As we lie on the mat, we are given a choice to face and accept the inevitability of death. If we are not ready, Savasana stays in the first stage – relaxation. If we are ready or open to the exploration of this pose, we are given the opportunity to experience a sublime surrender of everything, including and most importantly, the fear of death. This does not discount the grief and experiences surrounding death, but the practice of Savasana can ease the grieving process and help us heal faster from the loss, whether it is the idea of our own death or someone else’s. Savasana gives us the ability to manage the emotions surrounding death. We begin to understand the more profound teachings of Yoga – that life is an illusion and that death, being part of this illusion, is nothing to be fearful of.
Practice Tip: This is part of my personal practice when I reach this stage of my Savasana. I, possibly like most of us, had a great fear surrounding death. Not of my own, but the “what if” and “what will happen” scenarios for the loved ones I leave behind. One of my teachers taught me this technique and I share it with you now, but be warned, it is an advanced technique and can be distressing.
Before ending Savasana, I would picture myself as a corpse going through the process of decomposition. I would practice dispassionate observance, like we discussed above, and allow for the scene to unfold. I stopped here and practiced this until my mind and emotions could handle it. For the purpose of this article, I will stop here once again as the remainder of the practice, like I said, can be distressing if one is unprepared or unwilling to let go. However, confronting the inevitability of our own death in this manner is a good first step to releasing ourselves from the fear of death.
Spiritually, Savasana can bring us to a more profound sense of liberation from the physical life.
In Savasana, we practice Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation). We focus and draw our attention withinand withdraw from the physical world; allowing the experience to bemeditative.
This temporary withdrawal prepares us for the final separation of death. In time, we will be able to feel a profound sense of inner peace, contentment and joy because we are able to let go. Living, then, becomes a joyful experience as every second that we live is brought to its fullest potential and realisation.
Personally, I like to think of Savasana as a path to and a glimpse of Samadhi. It is a very comforting thought that utter joy, bliss and peace is achievable; possibly even in one lifetime.
Article written by Aileen David.
Owner & teacher, Yoga Sadhaka. Aileen’s yoga journey started as a way to manage a stressful career. After some time, the reason changed to a longing to find her purpose. Now she teaches in the Hatha Yoga tradition, specifically the Vinyasa Flow style. She specialises in general, mixed level vinyasa classes, specialty classes for prenatal and plus-sized students and a unique Kids and Parents yoga class.
Contact details and website:http://yoga-sadhaka.blogspot.com.au/
Photo courtesy of lululemon athletica.