Have you seen those Yoga themed t-shirts with the slogan “I’m only here for the Śavāsana”? You too might love Śavāsana like this — or maybe you find it really hard or simply a bit boring. Śavāsana is something of a marmite Yoga pose — you love it or you hate it.
It can be easy to see Śavāsana as just the relaxation bit at the end of class, but of course it’s a Yoga posture like any other, so it’s good to set up well and find a comfortable way to be here for 5-10 minutes. If you find lying on your back uncomfortable, you might modify by bringing the knees up with feet flat on the floor hip-width apart, until perhaps over time lying full-length might come more naturally. In more restorative classes Śavāsana might be held for a longer time, with options given for modifications, making full of use of blankets and bolsters.
In any case it’s good ‘Yoga etiquette’ never to skip Śavāsana. This isn’t just because it’s disruptive to your fellow students lying down around you if you get up and go early, nor because it’s rude to the teacher to leave the room before they do — it’s simply that Śavāsana is an integral part of the Yoga practice and time spent here will help you leave class feeling balanced and refreshed.
During Śavāsana control of the breath, body and mind are released. Scanning the body for areas of muscular tension might help initiate this process of letting go. Then the breath gradually deepens and all efforts fade away. This is a time for assimilating the benefits of the āsana practice, not through conscious thoughts but by allowing the body to rest and regroup. Ending practice with Śavāsana has a long tradition. It’s mentioned in the fifteenth century work the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā which gives two basic benefits of the pose: “With this āsana, tiredness caused by other āsanas is eliminated; it also promotes calmness of the mind.”
Instead of checking out and slipping towards a little snooze as you are lying down, you might try instead to use Śavāsana as an opportunity to practice Pratyāhāra (‘withdrawal of the senses’), turning your attention inward and cultivating the ‘calmness of mind’ mentioned in the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. Practise watching your thoughts as they arise and see how they often then fall away if you don’t get caught up in them. Over time this might help you see that thoughts are just thoughts — they are not reality. This can be a step towards meditation and the awareness that some underlying stillness and truth exist on a deeper level beneath the fluctuating thoughts that often distract us throughout our lives. Perhaps it is for this reason that Śavāsana (‘Corpse Pose’) gets its name: we symbolically ‘die’ by letting go of our old way of being and our habitual patterns of thinking. It is a very subtle forerunner of the process we go through at death where everything drops away until only the body remains lying inert.
By Victoria Jackson