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What Your Savasana Can Tell You

savasana Savasana … Ahhhh

I’ve heard it many times, and said it many times: “Savasana is the most important pose. All the other poses we do in our asana practice prepare us for Savasana.” For most students of yoga, this is good news. For most, Savasana is a welcome respite, a chance to unwind the body and simply be. Savasana provides a window into formlessness, into universal vastness and peace, our true Self. In Savasana, the boundaries between the body and the atmosphere around it disappear, while the mind stays awake and aware, settled back, observing thought bubbles and sensations from a place of spacious, non-grasping awareness.

Still there are times when Savasana is challenging. Sometimes the body is restless, and then there's the mind, obsessing about some joy or injustice in the recent or distant past, or jumping ahead into whatever we've got planned after Savasana. When there's little physical sensation to occupy our attention, the mind slips easily into its default mode of planning, worrying and remembering. As the body lies still, the mind is free to travel wherever it likes. And travel it does, most often to the object of stress du jour. While knowing what is catching us, even in Savasana, is helpful information for us, spinning out in the agitated mind during Savasana doesn't necessarily set us up for a peaceful day.

At other times, Savasana turns into a nap. And often a nap is the body’s most intelligent and appropriate response to an opportunity to stop for a few minutes. Most of our lives are full beyond a humane capacity for work, family and activities. Even our asana classes are often an expression of constant movement and non-stop input. While physical activity can feel great after a day of static sitting at a computer, constant movement from one pose to the next can look an awful lot like running from work to errands to family responsibilities. Non-stop talk from a teacher mirrors our already overactive minds, and keeps them bouncing endlessly from one alignment point or pithy saying to the next during the active practice. No wonder we shut down in Savasana.

Why are some Savasanas spacious, peaceful and light while others are agitated, restless or fatigued? The reasons are likely multitudinous and individual. First among them, and perhaps most widely applicable is the factor of time. In most modern American asana classes, Savasana is given five to ten minutes. Especially after a fast-paced, sweaty vinyasa class, this is simply not enough time for the body to reach physiological relaxation, let alone move into spacious consciousness.

Judith Hanson Lasater, longtime yoga teacher, physical therapist and PhD in East-West Psychology, says that it takes a body an average of 15 minutes to reach physiological relaxation after a typical asana practice. Once the body has reached physiological relaxation, we may begin to experience pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, defined as withdrawal from the senses. Pratyahara is the beginning of meditation, the state in which we are fully aware of what is arising in our sense stores, but we are no longer pulled out of our center by them. In pratyahara, we are free from our addiction to the senses. Once we have reached pratayahara in Savasana, we may—or may not—then move into states of deeper, more spacious awareness.

In my own practice, the perfect duration for Savasana depends on my preceding asana practice. On the days when my practice includes more active asanas such as standing poses and backbends (always with an appropriate cool-down time toward the end) it takes 20 to 25 minutes in Savasana for my body/mind to reach the expanded state that is Savasana for me. On the days when my practice is quieter, with restorative poses and forward bends, sometimes I will move into pratyahara after just a few minutes. Even when I shift into expansion relatively quickly, I never cut my Savasana short. Instead, I allow my body/mind to move ever more deeply into stillness.

My favorite translation of Sutra 1.2, the verse that defines yoga comes from Alistair Shearer: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.”

All the limbs of yoga, including the physical practice, are meant to lead us to the deep silence that we all are. Let your daily practice change and evolve. Be mindful of and open to what you truly need. On days when your energy is low, replenish with restorative poses. On days when your energy is more plentiful, more active poses might be appropriate. Then listen to what Savasana tells you about the quality of your practice. Could you never quite relax? Did you immediately zonk out? How does this coincide with your preceding asana practice? Savasana can lead us to the center of who we are, the state of Yoga. Give Savasana the time it—and you—deserve.

About Charlotte Bell

Charlotte Bell discovered yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. Charlotte is the author of Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice, published by Rodmell Press. Her second book, Yoga for Meditators (Rodmell Press) was published in May 2012. She writes a monthly column for CATALYST Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. Charlotte is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to schools and to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, Charlotte plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and folk sextet Red Rock Rondo, whose DVD won two Emmy awards in 2010.

7 thoughts on “What Your Savasana Can Tell You”

  • Charlotte

    Nice idea. I've also used lavender flowers in a sachet inside my pillowcase to help me sleep.

  • S Buntin

    True that on the spike mat. Mine's from Hugger Mugger, of course. :)

    Here's a q that no one has been able to give me an satisfactory answer for, if you please??:

    I often get this "asymetrical" feeling in savasana. I haven't been able to determine if it is a physical or mental sensation and why. Also sometimes when I am sitting in meditation, I feel like I am sitting at a slight angle to the room but when I open my eyes I see that I am not. Otherwise I derive satisfaction/benefits from this practice.

    The lady that did my John Barnes Method of Myofascial Release massage says my pelvis is assymetrical and I should use towels to adjust for savasana but I haven't noticed a difference. (the myofascial release was sent from heaven above by the way. My fascia is crazy. I have multiple copies on an article you wrote on the subject of fascia with the awesome illustration.)

    I am super-right brained. And I also notice a lot of right/left differences in the weightroom, but maybe I am just real body-aware, that's what that myofascial lady said I was.

    Thanks--and Charlotte, I love your articles.

    • Charlotte Bell

      Hi, Thanks for your comment. Sorry to have taken some time to reply. I went out of town and offline for a few days!

      That's interesting about your asymmetrical feeling. You must have a great deal of body awareness. Your Myofascial therapist is probably right that an asymmetrical pelvis could have something to do with the feeling since the pelvis is such an important base for the rest of your body.

      When I studied with the Iyengars in India, Geeta adjusted me one day in supine pranayama. She basically rotated my ribcage so that it was better aligned. After she did that I felt completely misaligned because I was so accustomed to the feeling of the chronic torque in my torso. I don't know if you've been feeling the asymmetry in Savasana and in sitting postures ever since you began practicing, or if that started appearing after a while. But I'm wondering if it could be that you are adjusting to the bodywork and yoga practice and your body feels out of balance compared to what you're used to. Just a thought. This may or may not resonate for you.

      Thanks for your kind words about my articles. Thanks for reading! namaste,

  • Maureen Mendohlson
    Maureen Mendohlson September 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    I do the same as Charlotte, Sometimes, I also use vanilla, rose or peppermint when I try to have some variety. They are very effective and also very pleasing to the nose.

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