What Some Yoga Teachers Say
BKS Iyengar in Light on Yoga
‘After completing the practice of asanas, always lie down in Savasana for at least 10 to 15 minutes, as this will remove fatigue. Gradually, when the nerves become passive, one feels completely relaxed and refreshed. In good relaxation one feels energy flow from the back of the head towards the heels and not the other way around. One also feels as if the body is elongated.’
(Savasana is)’Most difficult for students. Not waking, not sleeping.’
‘Think of Savasana as a time of digestion, assimilation, and adaptation of all the information that your active practice has put into your body. You have moved in every direction and loaded the various musculoskeletal structures in lots of ways. Give your body some time to process and assimilate all of that information, and to begin to adapt accordingly; your body will continue to adapt as you sleep that night and in the following days, ultimately becoming stronger and better able to carry the loads that you are asking it to.’
‘In my mind the three most important poses in modern yoga are Tadasana, Siddhasana, and Savasana. Savasana is the absence of all patterns—neurological, emotional, and physical. It is the ultimate release of the known and unknown world, where awareness is all that is left, without the illusion of the separation of the seer. The world as a whole appears without the subject of ‘I. One should relish the emptiness of the small self for peace and overwhelming joy. When one disappears, there is no possibility of being or leaving.’
‘During the practice we are absorbed with doing; in savasana it is time to establish in non-doing, time to simply be. The mystical state that is the goal of yoga cannot be reached through activity: instead it arises through the cessation of all activity. This cessation is allowed during savasana.’
‘In Savasana, the body and mind get a chance to take in and integrate the effects of the practice. It’s also an important practice for the nervous system to recalibrate and reset, which we know is so important in our busy, stressful lives.’
‘Savasana is when our nervous system can switch to parasympathetic tone that is essential to the body’s ability to repair and reset itself. Mentally, when the body finally becomes tension free, the mind has a chance to follow suit and become clear and clutter free. This allows us to function better in our lives and to tune into the real mission of yoga; to become connected to a higher power called Love.’
‘ So many students, myself included, often feel like we have to shorten our rest time after practice, but that takes the sweetness out of the whole experience. It’s only after the actual practice is finished that the deep healing energies really integrate. If you pop up without allowing these subtle forces to work, you may feel overly tired or emotionally unbalanced throughout the day. Plus, no matter what poses you do or what shapes you make, there is always a wave of happiness, joy, and peace waiting for you at the end. Bask in it for as long as possible.’
‘The importance of Savasana is that of making space for the dust of the mind to settle, and allowing the fragments of thought, emotion and memory that were unearthed during the practice to break apart and dissolve. When we give space to these fragments, they release the physical forces contained within them, and those forces are then absorbed back into the subtle body, which then resonates with new creative potential. Having given ourselves over to this natural process, we may emerge feeling lighter, more lucid, and renewed.’
The most important posture
I was often told that Savasana is the most important posture, however it took me many years to really feel that this is true. My Savasanas have become more decadent (where it can be) with the years; this was not easy for me in the start.
- Some link this with the duration of practice – 5 minutes for every 60 minutes of asana practice
- Some suggest the parasympathetic nervous system really begins to settle us after a magic number of minutes. I have been told both 6, 7 and 10 by various different teachers. One could time Savasanas and try to observe when this happens for you – when you drop into the next level of relaxation
- Kathy Cooper, one of my favourite Ashtanga teachers, told me to take no less than 15 minutes after a long Ashtanga practice. She was the first Ashtanga Savasana stickler I met – she cares more about this than any other posture she will see you do.
Ideal external conditions:
- If your practice was sweaty, it is good to rub the sweat into the skin and leave it on you during relaxation so the skin can reabsorb some of the minerals from the salt.
- Keep warm and well covered
- Create supports that allow you to lie on your back with ease like a bolster behind the knees or a pillow for the head
- Darken the room or cover the eyes
- If you really struggle with Savasana, try it wearing headphones as well as an eye mask to close down the sense and draw the attention inside deeper
Ideal internal conditions:
- Do put some effort into observing the movements of the mind and if it wanders draw the attention back, as you might in your seated meditative practice
- Invite the heart rate to slow and let the breath become fully quiet observing the pauses at the end of the exhale getting longer
You do you, I’ll do me
Of course given that people may have experienced complex trauma or may have varying levels of comfort in spaces with others lying on your back spread eagled on the floor might not be any of the things described above. Likewise for some with injuries or other physical limitations lying on the back might be impossible or uncomfortable. I have literally heard teachers get angry or tut at people for not doing Savasana in the classical way. We would never do this with another posture…I hope. What you are really looking for is a way to rest and only you can work out the best position to do that in.
Consider how slowly we build students up to doing advanced poses like Urdhva Dhanurasana with encouragement and lots of tiny steps. If, as Jois said, Savasana is the hardest pose for people, surely we need some tools and modifications to help to develop the comfort to rest at all and certainly to rest in a public class in such an exposing position. Maybe some will never take this advanced asana and that might be the best way for them to practice. So let’s consider some alternative or modified ways to rest.
Alternatives, preps and modifications for those of us who are not savasana naturals
- Take full savasana but only for as long as it doesn’t disturb the mind, even if this is less than a minute, then come back to sit and breathe before the rest of the group
- Stay seated in meditation whilst others lie down, either stay here or join them for the last few moments of Savasana to dip a toe
- Take Savasana lying on your side, possibly in recovery position with top knee over a bolster to not feel so exposed or if lying on your back feels uncomfortable for any reason
- Rest forwards in child’s pose over a bolster if lying on the back feels exposing or it is uncomfortable to lie on your back
- Listen to a guided nidra or meditation if silence is challenging for you
- Do not judge yourself or feel you failed if you need to move around a little as you settle or between moments of stillness, this will lessen with time
- Ignore anyone who judges you for your ability to take rest, this is SO challenging for many of us. Be kind to yourself whatever relaxation looks like that day
- Lie with legs up the wall or on a sofa sea sometimes and explore raising the legs on blocks or other props for additional comfort
*These quotes from famous teachers are from Yoga Journal, ‘Tempted to Skip Savasana?: 10 Top Teachers Explain Why Its the Most Important Pose