I love yoga; specifically, I love hot yoga. Sweaty, challenging, muscle-burning yoga. But the end of almost all of my classes, there’s a time when the sweating stops and the stillness begins. Savasana (or Shavasana, depending on which school of practice) may not look like much–it’s basically lying on the back, sometimes with the heels together, sometimes not–but it is, to many practitioners and instructors, the cornerstone of any yogic practice. But why, I’ve often wondered? What is it about this pose that’s so restorative, so healing? So I asked two celebrity yogis–Mandy Ingber and Kyle Miller–to explain why they think we all need Savasana.
According to Ingber and Miller, there are several reasons why Savasana is so key. The first is the aspect that makes Savasana, which is most often used as the final resting pose after a physically demanding yoga class, one of the most difficult poses: the mental focus it takes to remain committed to the pose.
“It can feel like ‘doing nothing’,” says Ingber, “But I guarantee you, you will become addicted to this most important pose, and it will get you to your yoga class, just so you can experience the bliss.”
Miller agrees, noting that “just as in the other asanas where you take on the shapes of animals, sages, trees, mountains, etc. and embody those qualities, in corpse pose you practice letting go of the body.” And, says Miller, that letting go is especially important for resetting and rejuvenating the mind.
“I live and teach in New York City, where everyone is running around like crazy. For the energized student, always checking things off their to-do list, always ‘go, go, go,’ Savasana can be the most important part of their practice.”
“It integrates all the hard work you have done during the practice, the balance, muscle conditioning, stretching, breath work. Everything settles in Savasana. I equate it with baking a cake and taking it out of the oven and letting it settle,” Ingber adds.
Simply the act of focusing on relaxation and simplicity of the mind is tough for those of us who are constantly running through a mental to-do list. And two, five, or even ten minutes (I dare you to try a ten-minute Savasana) of specifically targeting and clearing out those racing thoughts can be immensely therapeutic. But the posture is good for more than just taking the time to conscientiously relax, Inger says.
“The physical practice stresses the body, almost creating a crisis. It’s important to remember that we do that so that the body can restore itself. When you’re sleeping, your body is in a healing state. All of the energy is going in that direction. Savasana is a mini oasis like that.”
But what does it actually do, in terms of physical benefits?
“[Savasana] decreases muscle tension and fatigue, lessens anxiety, increased energy, improves concentration and clarity of the mind, and promotes better sleep.”
And, Miller advises, it helps with just about every practice.
“Those practicing asana should practice Savasana whether they practice ashtanga (Patthabi Jois had his students in Savasana—enough said!), kundalini, vinyasa, or Hatha yoga. Everytime you practice, you need to practice letting it all go.”
And don’t worry if your teacher doesn’t always leave time for a nice, long Savasana at the end of class. Says Ingber, ”being militant and rigid about any of this stuff is an absolute waste of time. It’s always important to do what you can and feel good about it. However, if I had to choose one pose to take on a desert island and do forever, I assure you it would be Savasana.”
“This posture shouldn’t be looked at as a chore. It’s an amazing, sweet opportunity to release the weight of our bodies into the support of the earth beneath us. We observe the body’s relaxation process, as the breath becomes shallow, the bones become heavy and the muscles start to loosen their grip on the bones. As our weight releases, stress and tension dissipate.” Miller says.
And, adds Ingber, “Comfort is key. If you need to support yourself with a blanket under the head, or bolster under the knees to feel more comfort, then do.”