When I was in my teacher training, there was one thing that I couldn’t wait to learn. It wasn’t a handstand, or a complicated arm balance—I couldn’t wait to learn how to give Shavasana assists. I loved the teachers who were able to bring me into a deeper state of relaxation during Corpse Pose by cradling my head and running their thumbs down my forehead, pressing gently on my temples, melting my muscles deeper into the floor. Whatever magic was in their hands, I wanted some of it!
As a teacher and a student, I consider myself something of a Shavasana enthusiast. Many teachers share my enthusiasm, stating that Corpse Pose is the most important posture there is in yoga. They say that all you have to do to “master” this pose is … well, nothing! Simple, right?
Not always. Not everyone shares my love for Corpse Pose. While some students revel in that blissed-out realm of relaxation, hoping for an extra few minutes on the floor, others fidget on their mats, flicking their eyes open and closed, waiting for the torture to cease. During my teacher training, I remember a fellow trainee saying that she always hated the idea of restorative yoga. “I just can’t bring myself to pay money to lay around for an hour,” she said. Some students take that attitude a bit farther. Though a typical Shavasana only lasts for 5 to 10 minutes, some students refuse to stick around for that final resting pose, opting to roll up their mats and jet out after the last backbend.
I would never fault a student for leaving early (sometimes you have to pick up your kid from daycare, etc.), but when it does happen, I can’t help but think: You’re missing the best part! With our hectic schedules, stressed out nervous systems and monkey minds, Shavasana may just be the best medicine.
The physiological benefits of Shavasana are many. Among those benefits are a decrease in heart rate, relaxed muscles, decrease in anxiety, decrease in blood pressure and even deeper and sounder sleep at night. Unlike sleep, where dreams might have us tossing and turning, Corpse Pose is a rare form of conscious relaxation. The relatively short time spent in Shavasana allows the body to release and relax and the nervous system to integrate all the work that came before it.
As with all asana, there is more to Shavasana than can be felt in the physical body. Sava means corpse. Shavasana is also called Mrtasana, and mrta means death. To me, the meaning of this is far from morbid—entering this pose during our yoga practice is a profound ritual. (As a fellow teacher recently said to me: “If we’re just exercising, I’m going home!”) To complete this ritual, the yogi lays down for a rest that is both literal and symbolic. We quiet down inside and out. We rest our bodies, and release our habitual thought patterns. As Shavasana comes to a close, we slowly bring sensation back to the body by deepening our breath, feeling our bellies rise and fall with each breath. We wiggle the fingers and toes, and slowly come up to a seated position—and we are reborn. The ritual is complete.
Are you a Shavasana lover or a Shavasana-phobe? What is your ideal Shavasana length? Two minutes or 20?