Lying flat on the ground with the face upwards, in the manner of a dead body, is savasana. It removes tiredness and enables the mind (and the whole body) to relax.
— Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter 1, Verse 32
(Trans. Swami Muktibodhananda)
I have a secret: I used to hate savasana. I kept that secret for a long time, because it seemed like everyone else in yoga class loved it. I would see people wearing those shirts that say, ‘I’m only here for savasana,’ and be totally baffled. But I faked it anyway. I would lay there, totally still — because everyone else was and because I was a ‘good student’ (and god forbid the teacher see me fidgeting around). I’d lie there motionless, while my mind spun out thinking of all the things that I could be doing instead of lying there, doing nothing - making endless to-do lists, scripting emails, rehearsing fake conversations in my head. It turns out, the ‘fake it until you make it’ model really worked for me. By practicing being still, I gradually learned how to be still. I had a direct experience of the process of conscious relaxation, of letting go.
I had to learn how to rest. In yoga class, we experience the ebb and flow of activity and rest, expansion and contraction, busy-ness and slowness. Savasana is as vital to the practice as are the active parts; sun salutations, warrior twos, handstands. It's true that savasana feels all the more sweet when we’ve worked vigorously in class. This period of conscious relaxation, in which we let go of the physical body and the thinking mind, is indispensable to the practice. We take the opportunity to absorb everything that we have experienced during class. We also create a sacred space between the end of class and the beginning of the rest of the day - a time to assimilate and absorb everything we have experienced over the last sixty to ninety minutes.
Corpse pose (as the translation goes) also gives us the opportunity each day to die a little death. What part of myself can I give up today? What parts are no longer serving me? What part of me do I resurrect? This process of letting go is said to help us deal with the moment of our eventual death with greater ease. It also helps us deal with the little deaths throughout our lives - the losses, the changes, the disappointments, and the surprises - with ease and grace.
The whole universe is based on these rhythms of expansion and contraction: from the expansion of the galaxies to the passage from blossoming summer to hibernating winter; from the cycle of a day and night to the progression and resolution of a sweaty vinyasa class. The exhale and the inhale.
Savasana is not sleep but is a process of consciously letting go. However, there are some parallels to the role of savasana in our classes and the role of sleep in our days. Sleep is a bit of a mystery to science, but one thing that we do know about sleep is that we need sleep and dreams to process our days. It is necessary for us to have a period of time in which we pull back from the world to remain quiet and still.
We need these periods of drawing back, of crawling back into ourselves in order to make sense, in order to deeply experience the world. There is a renewing quality about times of contraction or drawing inward.
Have you had your savasana today?