When I took my first yoga class, I did not like Savasana. Not even the tiniest bit. I had enjoyed the active stretching poses, and when asked to lie down on my mat at the end of class, I felt confused about what we were doing and why we were doing it. I had negative judgments about “lying here and wasting time.” Needless to say, I was soon sold on the absolute value of being still. Now, I fly all over the world teaching people to do nothing—and I’m here to show you how it’s done.
- Is familiar to almost all yoga students.
- Creates the potential for very deep relaxation.
- Can be practiced with a variety of setups, with or without props, depending on the circumstances.
- Is the most basic pose of Restorative Yoga and thus the most important.
- Lowers blood pressure.
- Effectively slows heart and respiratory rates.
- Remains a good choice for practitioners with no lower-back issues.
Avoid this pose if you…
- Cannot easily get up from or down to the floor.
- Are past the first trimester of pregnancy.
- Have experienced some form of trauma that makes you anxious or uncomfortable to lie on the floor in a vulnerable, open position.
- 1 sticky mat
- 1 bolster
- 1 block (If you are using a round bolster, you do not need a block.)
- 5 firm blankets, including a covering blanket (not shown)
- 1 eye bag or hand towel to cover your eyes
- 2 large eye bags, one for each hand (optional, not shown)
Gather your props, and spread your mat on an even floor space where you will not be disturbed. Prepare a long-roll blanket as support for your ankles and Achilles tendons. Now, place a low block widthwise across the middle of your mat, and stand a rectangular bolster on its side at a 45-degree angle so it will support your lower legs. (The bolster will be under your lower legs, and the block will be under your thighs.) Be sure the block does not press into the backs of your thighs—this will distract you from your relaxation.
It is very important that you create a 2:1 ratio of knee height to ankle height; your knees need to be twice as high as your ankles for the most comfortable pose.
Sit on your mat, and put your legs over the bolster so the backs of your knees, calves, and thighs are all supported. A well-placed bolster support will let the tops of your thighs near the hip joints drop straight toward the floor, which increases relaxation—especially in your abdomen and lower back.
Fold 3 of your blankets as pictured.
Place 2 blankets out to your sides to support each wrist, and use one layer of the fold to lightly cover your hands. When your hands are supported in the proper position, your elbows will be on the floor with your arms out far enough to your sides that they don’t touch your torso—your shoulder blades will be flat on the floor, slightly descending toward your waist (but not squeezed together).
The third blanket is for your head. Make sure the long end comes under your back to the tops of your shoulder blades, then take hold of the next couple of loose layers on the top of the blanket, and roll them under all the way to C7, at the base of your cervical spine (see page 56 for more on neck anatomy). Then roll the outer layers of the blanket under, and push them under the sides of your neck (to fill the space of the natural arch) and along the sides of your throat and head. It is important to keep your chin slightly lower than your forehead throughout. Once your head is comfortable, cover yourself with a blanket, cover your eyes, and place your wrists back on their supports. Then set your timer for at least 20 minutes. Now you are ready to begin.
Being There in the Pose
Savasana is an adventure of traveling deep inside yourself. First, notice your feet and legs, then your hands and arms. How do they feel? Are you holding tension anywhere? Pay attention to where your body touches the floor and where it does not. Notice the weight of your torso and how and where it makes contact with the floor and the props—at the sacrum, back ribs, and shoulder area. Let your abdominal organs settle with each exhalation. Part your teeth, but keep your lips lightly touching. Release tension along your jawline and in your cheeks. Slow your breath until it’s almost imperceptible.
Consciously move your attention back in your head toward the center of your brain. Imagine a wave moving away from the shore as you withdraw your energy from the periphery of your body to the center of your awareness. This practice is called pratyahara, or sense perception.
You might still hear the birds chirping outside your window or the soft tones of your teacher’s voice, but do not allow these things to disturb you. The goal is to lose all curiosity about what is happening around you—all ambition to move or to understand whatever is going on outside yourself. Your body should feel warm and without distinct parts like arms and legs. Allow it to simply be a location for your consciousness as you rest in the deepest, stillest center of yourself. Remain in the pose for at least 20 minutes.
Coming Back to Your Body
When your timer goes off, do nothing at first. Gradually, let your awareness drift gently upward and outward. Notice, as you shift back into the outer world, that your breathing may change spontaneously. Take several long, slow breaths. With an exhalation, bring your sacrum fully and firmly down to the floor, and hold it there. Bend your knees, one by one, toward your chest, and then roll to one side. Many teachers suggest rolling to the right, but I am content to let students decide which side feels right to them.
Rest here for a few more breaths. When you’re ready, turn over so that your belly faces the floor. Using your arms, gently push your body up to a seated position on your knees or however is natural and comfortable for you. As you sit up, let your chin drop to your chest so that your head is the last thing to come up. Slow down and enjoy the total lack of anxiety, tension, and agitation. It is physiologically impossible to be anxious and relaxed simultaneously. Enjoy the sweet residue that Savasana has created in your nervous system.
Note For Teachers
When the members of the class are all settled and ready, start them in the pose with a few verbal images. As soon as you can, stop talking. Meditate, read the Yoga Sutras, take up knitting—just avoid the trap of believing you are not giving your students enough if you just silently sit with them, holding the sacred space of safety and rest, creating a safe harbor that makes their stressful lives possible. Trust the silence. Trust the pose. Trust your students. But mostly trust yourself and the process of transformation that Savasana has to bring us all home to ourselves.
Give your students a gift that no one else in their lives will: of doing nothing and just being for at least 20 minutes. Above all, practice Savasana yourself for at least 20 minutes each day. Then your words will have more integrity, and thus more power, when you teach the pose.
One variation of this Savasana is to add sandbags under the abdomen and/or the head. To add the abdominal sandbag, hold its short edges, and watch the student’s breath. When she exhales, place the center and heaviest part of the bag just above her navel. It may feel heavy, but the sensation will go away as she relaxes. (Do not add the abdominal sandbag for anyone who is menstruating, pregnant, recovering from abdominal surgery, or simply does not like it.)
Now place the short end of a block as close to the top of her head as you can without actually touching it. Place the bulk of the weight of the second sandbag on the block, and gently guide some of it onto your student’s forehead. Make sure the weight of the bag is on her forehead and not her eyes, and make sure it tips her chin down—not up—when she is in the pose.
To remove the sandbag, take the short ends of the bag in each hand, and as you count to 3, gently lift the bag. Always make sure you are in a stable position when placing or removing a sandbag.