There are plenty of people who love savasana and appreciate it’s full effect, but I’ve also seen plenty of people dip out of yoga class at this point or complain that they don’t get why that pose is even necessary. I also used to do this. A lot, actually. I got my start on some Wii fitness game and I would just stop it once it got to savasana and go about my day.
I later figured out the problem. Not only was I not totally bought into yoga as a lifestyle yet, but I was also not challenged enough mentally or physically by the practice I was doing. Doing some yoga in the house made me feel a little physically better, like I could function more comfortably in my body, but I wasn’t yet at the point where it made me feel invincible.
I know, it sounds strange to new practitioners or people who don’t do yoga and definitely to people who think yoga is just advanced stretching. Here’s the thing: Savasana is the doorway to peace. At some point in one of the first actual yoga classes with a person teaching it, I realized that in order to find the door, a few things had to happen.
First, I have to be utterly exhausted physically. If I “left some on the mat” then I just lay there wishing I had leaned into this or that pose or figured out how to get some other one in to not feel this or that twinge somewhere in my body. A lot of it is that feeling of striving towards something. That’s one of my favorite things about yoga. A pose can always get harder or lead into a harder pose and so there’s always a new goal that possible aside from just doing more or doing it faster like other exercises. I can do it better or try something new and be challenged in some new way.
Second, if I left anything on the mat, I tend to not have had the experience of focusing hard enough on each pose or on the hold of any given pose that my mind stopped worrying about everything else. A big part of yoga is living in the present and though I will always strive for the next pose when it’s possibility presents itself, I have also learned to listen to where my body is today. Just because I was comfortable enough to do half moon yesterday does not mean that I can do it today and that’s perfectly okay. Still, if I didn’t try, if the try wasn’t hard enough for me to focus on hand and foot placement, then the past and all the things I have to do today are still weighing on me.
Third, if the second one didn’t happen, then I also didn’t hold any pose long enough to release the tension of the stretch within the pose and therefore the tension that exists in my body. Whichever pose it is, there is one that will remind me that tension only keeps me from reaching my goals and that I have to let it go. It’s usually towards the end of a practice when I’m getting a final seated leg stretch in that I realize that I’m still holding onto tension. If I’m in a class, I’ll let go of it all and try to lean into the stretch. If I’m at home, sometimes I set a timer and try to hold it for a minute to not just remember, but really feel and enjoy the pose without the tension and live in that place where I can just relax a minute.
Then I get to savasana, exhausted, knowing that nothing is more important than this moment, and without tension. I can close my eyes and savor the sound of the instructors voice or the music playing or the silence and my thoughts can disappear. I can lay there and feel good about having given everything I have to something today. This is when savasana is too short because it’s a balance in yoga class and for yoga instructors because not everyone will get there every time. I’m one of those people, though, that can seriously savasana for like 10 minutes.
I have, on occasion, done just that. Last year, before I went to instructor training, and I was just doing yoga with a friend who had never done it before but had a lot on his mind, I think we did a solid 15 minutes of savasana one time. It was one of the first few times he had accompanied me to yoga and we both had a lot going on. It was one of the first few times he had talked me into letting him try my whole routine. As a beginner, I wasn’t going to throw him right into poses like half moon and pigeon, but he tried the poses and did the variations as he was able without hurting himself. By the time we got to savasana, we were both pretty tired.
I was feeling a nice long savasana and had been a little worried that he would find it strange as someone new to yoga, so rather than intro savasana the way I had heard yoga instructors do before, I told him something along these lines:
This is savasana, or corpse pose. We just lay like the dead until we feel like getting up. Or lay here and work stuff out until it’s time to get on.
He totally got it. It’s like, everything about yoga comes together when we learn to embrace savasana. It’s still good exercise either way, but to me, it’s the pose that makes the biggest difference. It lets me work stuff out, it gives me the space to let things go, shows me how to find peace in the chaos.
Finally, the act of getting up and getting out of the pose is in itself a powerful moment when I’ve chosen it. There’s a difference between when I am revived in class and when I’m doing my own practice. In class, I am gently revived by the instructor and ushered out of the class and it almost always feels too soon.
On my own, it’s a choice to get on with my day, to get back to doing the things that need to be done before I can rest. At the end of the day, it’s the pose that I need to be ready for actual rest. If it’s the beginning of the day, it’s the point when I’ve decided that I’m ready to carry on, to take on the day as it is rather than what I want it to be, to recognize that I must be flexible to get through to some people or to just get through the day. It is the point when I have decided that I am ready to continue that resistance that has become my life and strive for better days for those who come after me.
For another perspective on how amazing savasana can be, check out Recklessly Optimistics’ post on it – The Case for Savasana.