written by: Kyneret Azizo
Happy New Year! It’s that special time of year again. Each January we hold our 10-day Savasana Challenge to inspire our students to stick around a little longer on their mat at the end of practice. That’s how you acquire those awesome yoga perks, after all!
For those who have been out of touch with their yoga practice for a while, this is a friendly reminder that savasana does qualify as a yoga pose, so even if you are “just here for the savasana”, it totally counts for yoga brownie points and we won’t judge you for it! Pinky swear!
It is indeed a conversation starter after class. Over the years many students have shown great interest and asked me numerous questions about it, including:
“What is the point of Savasana?”
“What am I supposed to be doing?”
“Is it like meditation?”
And, more recently:
“Is sleep paralysis during savasana normal?!”
I myself have often pondered these very same things while in the pose, naturally.
Am I supposed to focus my mind, or let go of focusing my mind? Am I supposed to observe the breath or not? Is my mind supposed to be sharp or fuzzy? Is this supposed to be like meditation, with full concentration and awareness of the moment?
The short answer is: everything is normal, you’re not ‘supposed’ to do anything, and savasana can consist of all or none of the above.
But let’s delve a little deeper and explore some more in-depth answers to these questions:
What is the point of savasana?
From a physiological perspective, savasana is the beneficial rest needed post-workout which allows the vitals to return to normal. As the body settles back into rest-and-digest mode, the heart rate drops and the organs resume their normal functions.
As stated by Dr. Carla Manly, clinical psychologist and yoga and meditation instructor, “Your body doesn’t differentiate between stress from running from a tiger, having a long day at work, or a run in the park. Exercise puts us in that fight-or-flight state. Those situations trigger the body to flood itself with adrenaline and cortisol. The body shuts down all but its critical functions.”
So savasana is a necessary post-workout component that counteracts these stress-responses in the body for homeostasis, a state of equilibrium, to be achieved.
From an Eastern, energetic perspective, it is believed that savasana is a time for the integration of our practice to occur. Yoga teachers often refer to savasana as a way to ‘seal the practice.’
What am I supposed to be doing?
The name corpse pose essentially reveals the gist of the pose. We are guided to be in (dead) stillness and to cease all physical effort, letting go of all our muscular and mental tensions. The ultimate goal? To find total relaxation. With this kind of deep rest comes restoration and repair. This is a time for the body to allocate its reserves of energy into repairing tissues and reorganize itself in more efficient ways.
So what can we do to achieve this state?
Some good news is that if we’ve had a pretty intense workout, shifting into savasana-mode might be easier than expected due to the endorphin release, which make us feel euphoric.
Another contributing factor that induces a restful state in savasana is something known as interoception. Interoception is the awareness of internal body states, such as the observation of our breath, heartbeat, or the subtle sensations that sweep through our limbs.
While teachers often cue students not to control their breath in savasana, they do encourage them to be a witness to its ways in a detached manner. Observing the breath has been shown to reduce stress levels and induce a feeling of relaxation.
So just be the watcher, not the doer, and let everything be as it is. If your mind is sharp and focused, great. If it’s fuzzy and you’re feeling sleepy, so be it. If your breath is deep, wonderful. If it’s shallow, that’s ok too. The important thing is that you give yourself permission to completely relax.
Is savasana like meditation?
Despite the obvious difference in body posture, I can see why it would be easy to pass savasana off as being like a meditation. They both seem to have similar end results, taking us into states of deep relaxation, yet they take different routes to get there. But in order to properly compare the two, you’d have to juxtapose a consistent daily savasana practice of at least 30-60 min with a daily meditation of the same length or more. Many yoga experts would likely agree that savasana is capable of creating a relaxed state much more swiftly, as the body is in a position that requires no effort and no intensity. If you ask most people, it generally takes much longer in meditation to achieve that same level of relaxation if it’s even a possibility for them at all.
The cumulative effects of each over time might also greatly differ. We might conclude that meditation is more capable of bringing on a state of alertness than savasana is, and that overtime it would lead to greater enhanced cognitive performance. An ongoing practice of savasana could, on the other hand, lead to a drastic decrease in stress hormones in the body.
In my personal experience, I have never had the same shifts in mental alertness with savasana as I have with meditation. I have also never quite been able to find the same level of relaxation with meditation as I have with savasana. This is enough to signify that for me, there is something fundamentally different about the state of mind and body in each.
Is sleep paralysis during savasana normal?
In more recent years students have shared some intriguing experiences they’ve had while in savasana. They’ve described it as being in a trance-like state with an awareness of all that is happening around them. They are able to perceive ambient sounds and even get a visual idea of what is happening in their immediate environment, describing things they’ve seen clearly, but they cannot move their limbs or open their eyes. Some students have even described the sensation of floating a few feet above their body.
I do believe it’s perfectly normal for people to have this kind of experience in savasana if they are completely relaxed, so if this sounds familiar to you, don’t panic. Sleep paralysis happens when the body is in a state of sleep but the mind is still conscious, bringing on the occurrence of paralysis. The best way through it is to maintain the awareness of your breath and allow the experience to unfold without judgment or resistance.
In the practice of Yoga Nidra, which is basically an extended guided savasana, the goal is to reach this state between wakefulness and sleep (known as the theta brain state), where we can plant the seeds of our sankulpa (intention formed by heart and mind) so that it may take root in our subconscious mind and thus unfold into our living reality. Use it to your advantage!
Savasana becomes much more pleasant and accessible once we drop all the expectations behind it for how it should be performed. Incorporating the practice of metta bhavana toward ourselves (loving kindness), savasana becomes a time in which we give ourselves permission to soften, release and find a deeply rejuvenating restful state which will greatly complement our high-energy practice.
As we learn to observe our body phenomena without trying to change anything, it’s a great opportunity to heighten our sense of interoception, which is what inevitably leads us to the ultimate release we find there.
Though you may find yourself in mental states that are meditative from time to time, try not to put pressure on yourself to navigate through the experience of savasana as if it were a meditation. Quite contradictorily, the more you can let go of that expectation, the more you may find that a clear and peaceful mindstate occurs naturally. And remember: all experiences in savasana are the right ones to have, especially transcendental ones!
Here’s to a brand new, healthy and relaxing year, filled with much savasanahhh time – Sign up for this month’s 10 day Savasana Challenge when registration opens on January 7th!
Kyneret has been practicing and teaching yoga for over a decade. She began as a yoga teacher for Modo Yoga Maple in 2012, and has recently set off on a nomadic adventure to South East Asia. She remains active within our Modo community as a blog writer.
When not writing, she is fully immersed in the day-to-day adventures of travel life and actively seeks out as many foreign yoga experiences as possible to further her knowledge and skills! You can follow Kyneret’s travels on her instagram account @planes_trains_autoimmunity