You may have heard your yoga teacher say that savasana is the most important poses in a yoga practice. (Hey, we put it on a shirt, so it must be something special!) This teaching stems from the foundation of the pose, which translates to corpse pose . The history behind the pose, and it’s slightly morbid name, is that savasana is to be taken at the end of every asana (physical) practice, so that we can fully relax and find stillness like a corpse.
It can be difficult sometimes, even after a nice, long practice, to find stillness in the body and mind. And, ironically, some may people may feel that it takes a lot of effort to reach that state of complete effortlessness.
Listed below are some common barriers people may face while trying to relax in savasana and tips for how to overcome those obstacles. This offering is intended to be a practice – not even the most experienced yogi finds absolute ease in this resting pose right away. Be kind to yourself. If you become agitated, bring your awareness towards your breath and continue your practice. All in due time, yogi.
Barrier #1: Physical tension
“Can I do pigeon again instead, please?”
If you made it through a balanced asana practice and you still feel tension in your body, consider that more stretching may not be the answer. Another method for releasing residual tightness whilst staying in savasana is to take a breath in, and contract the muscles surrounding the point of tension. Hold your breath for a moment, then release the contraction with an exaggerated sigh, releasing some of the tension. Physical tension may be linked emotional, mental, or spiritual tension, and sometimes it’s worth it to take a step back, relax, and observe. While holding the muscle contraction, notice any emotional, mental or spiritual tension, and allow them to come to the surface so they can be released as you exhale.
Barrier #2: Mental chatter
“Hmm, should I get groceries then a latte, or a latte then groceries?”
Kumbhaka , or breath retention, is thought to bring calm and focus to the mind. To begin, inhale to 85 per cent of your lung capacity. Then, seal the throat ( jalandara bandha ) by pressing your tongue to the back of the throat, tighten your abdominals, and engage your pelvic floor ( mula bandha ). It may feel like you’re using your muscles to hug your lungs and abdomen from the top, bottom, and around all the sides. Retain your breath for a few seconds (but not to the point of feeling panicky), then release the contraction and sigh your breath out through your mouth. Reset with a couple ujjayi breaths (deep breaths in and out through the nose), then repeat twice more. Over time, you may work up to practicing kumbhaka at the end of every inhale for two or three minutes.
Barrier #3: Stress
Technique: Long exhales
When you’re stressed you tend to inhale, inhale, inhale until your shoulders are up around your ears. So it makes sense that accentuating your exhales can help ground you when you’re stressed. Try inhaling for a count of four and exhaling for a count of eight. To accentuate this practice you may add in kumbhaka (described above): inhale for four counts, retain the breath for four counts, exhale for eight counts. As you become more experienced with this breath technique, you can start to lengthen your breath, inhaling for a count of five or six, and exhaling for a count of 10 or 12.
Barrier #4: Fidgeting
“Must. Resist. Itching. Nose.”
Technique: Body scan
If you sense your need to fidget is more mental than physical, you can try a body scan to bring you back into the space. Start at your toes, and make your way to the top of your head, noticing every part of the body, or the points where your body touches the mat. You can take one breath cycle per body part, and then continue on. As you make your way up, you may notice yourself sinking into a deeper state of relaxation. If you need more structure, you can listen to a recording of a 61-point body scan . This practice puts focus on specific energetic centers throughout the body and is commonly used to enter yoga nidra (yogic sleep).
Barrier #5: Distraction
“Ugh, I can’t believe the people in the lobby are chattering so loudly, and I think the person next to me just farted.”
Technique: Anuloma viloma
The average person can focus on seven things at once, so even while concentrating deeply on the sound and sensation of the breath during savasana , there are still five other mental slots free for distraction. To help distance yourself from distraction, you can establish a more complex dristi (focal point) to consume your mind’s full attention. Anuloma viloma (alternate nostril breathing) is often done by physically blocking one nostril then the other with the fingers. To practice whilst in savasana , remain lying on your back and simply visualize breathing in through the right nostril, then out through the left; in through the left nostril, then out through the right; and so on. Not complex enough to distract you from distraction? Mentally enumerate your breaths as you go, counting backwards from one of the sacred numbers of 27, 54, or 108: In the right 108, out the left 108; in the left 107, out the right 107; in the right 106, out the left 106. If you lose count, return to the number from which you began.
Remember that this is a practice. Complete stillness is hard to achieve, and you may only experience it for one breath cycle on some days, but, hey, it’s progress, and we’ll take it! Remember to always be kind to yourself, and don’t beat yourself up if you find you’re creating grocery lists or planning your outfit for tomorrow. Come back to your breath, and focus on the next inhale, and the next exhale. You can always mix and match the listed offerings, and even use them during your meditations as a way of practicing for savasana. You got this.