What Does Savasana Mean?

Savasana (शवासन, pronounced sha-vah-sah-nah), also known as Corpse Pose, is a yoga pose with major significance within the practice. Savasana is a resting pose, typically performed towards the end of the practice to allow the body to recover. As you lie back on your mat, you can absorb the benefits of the practice and revel in the calm that it brings.

Origins of Savasana

The first known mention of Savasana was in a Sanskrit yogic text, written as a guide to Hatha yoga. Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, written in the 15th century, mentions “lying down on the ground supine, like a corpse” and claims that this pose “eliminates tiredness and promotes calmness of the mind”.

Compared to some of the ancient forms of yoga, such as Raja yoga or Jhana yoga, Hatha is a relatively “young” practice. Nevertheless, Savasana had such a significant effect on yoga practice as a whole that most types of modern practice include a rest period in Savasana at the end of the class.

Etymology

The name of this pose comes from the Sanskrit words for “corpse” (शव, pronounced sha-vah) and “seat” or “posture” (आसन, pronounced ah-sah-nah). When yoga practice was popularized in the West, it became known as Corpse Pose, a direct translation of Savasana. Still, many yoga studios and individual teachers stick to the original name for this iconic asana.

There is another, lesser-known name for this pose. On occasion, it is referred to as Mritasana, from mrta (मृत, pronounced mri-tah), Sanskrit for “death.” The meaning remains the same, conveying the calm and stillness of a corpse.

Purpose of Savasana

The main purpose of Savasana is to let the body recover after performing physical postures. As with every other physical activity, recovery is essential in order to reap the benefits, prevent injury, and enable proper function of the body long-term. In fact, other forms of exercise have adopted Savasana as a method of recuperation over the last couple of decades.

Another major reason to perform Savasana is to learn to embrace stillness. Just as we nourish the body through movement, we have to take time to be motionless. Like yin and yang, movement and stillness are equally important in yoga practice to maintain balance. Finding stillness through Savasana teaches you control and restraint. It teaches you to stay connected and aware of every inch of your body without engaging in movement.

Most importantly, stillness of one’s physical body is a great way to direct attention to the mind. Savasana is typically performed for upwards of ten minutes, allowing the practitioner sufficient time to explore their thoughts and emotions.

When to Perform Savasana

How to Do Corpse Pose in Yoga

Most structured yoga sessions include 10-15 minutes of Savasana at the end of the class. This allows the students to wind down and recover from the effort exuded during the rest of the practice.

In a slower, gentler type of yoga practice, such as Yin or Restorative yoga, Savasana is often extended to 20-25 minutes. Longer Savasana is often accompanied by guided meditation or some form of sound therapy to help the participants relax. This may include Tibetan singing bowls, gong baths, or even live music.

Some teachers cue Savasana as a starting pose, allowing their students to gather their thoughts and find focus. This is a great grounding technique that prepares the mind and body for the practice ahead.

Finally, Savasana can be performed in isolation. It’s a great way to decompress after a long day and clear your mind. The restorative nature of the pose means that it requires zero warm-up. All that you need is to get comfortable, which can be achieved with the right conditions and a set of props.

How to Perform Savasana

As per its original description in Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā, Savasana is a pose performed lying on one’s back, like a corpse. With the spine resting comfortably on the floor, the arms and legs are extended in a way that feels natural to the practitioner.

In order for Savasana to be effective, you should be able to relax fully. This means taking any steps necessary for your own comfort. Don’t hesitate to modify your position or add props. You should also ensure that your body is at a comfortable temperature. For example, you may cover yourself up with a blanket or wear additional layers. On the other hand, if you practice on a hot day, you may turn on the air conditioning to help your body regulate temperature.

As well as finding physical comfort, it is important to create optimal conditions for mental focus and calm. One way to do that is to avoid distractions. It’s best to practice Savasana in a quiet room with dimmed lighting. To create the right atmosphere, you may take extra measures, such as lighting candles, burning incense, or playing meditative music.

At the end of the day, most of us have to make do with less-than-perfect conditions. For that reason, some practitioners like to use an eye mask to block the light or earplugs to drown out any noise.

See our tutorial on How to Do Corpse Pose in Yoga: A Guide to Savasana for more information.

How to Modify Savasana

Modified savasana

To ensure ultimate comfort, you may need to change your position or use yoga props to help you relax.

  • Bend your knees. If your lower back feels tender, bend your knees and plant your feet on the ground. Better yet, knock your knees together.
  • Use a bolster. Another way to reduce tension in your lower back is to sling your legs over a bolster.
  • Recline part-way. While the classic Savasana involves direct contact between the spine and the earth, that won’t suit everyone. You may create some elevation with cushions, blankets, or blocks to keep your upper body slightly raised.
  • Soften your landing. If lying on the ground feels uncomfortable, you might consider adding an extra layer for cushioning. This could be an additional yoga mat or a blanket.
  • Feel your breaths. An alternative to extending your arms is to rest your hands on your lower rib cage. This way, you can also monitor your breathing.
  • Pregnancy modification. Lying on your back is not recommended for pregnant women, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. One way to enjoy Savasana while pregnant is only reclining part-way, as described above. Alternatively, you may lie on your side, with your head resting on a pillow and a folded blanket or cushion between your bent knees.
  • Raise your legs. If your feet and legs are particularly tired, you can use a modification of Savasana to release that tension. Place a chair at the end of your yoga mat and rest your calves on the seat. This could also make your lower back more comfortable.

Yoga Nidra

If you enjoy Savasana, you should consider giving Yoga Nidra a try. Yoga Nidra, also known as sleep yoga or dream yoga, is a form of meditation practice where the practitioners’ mind hovers between waking and sleeping. It’s a technique that results in deep relaxation and exploration of the subconscious. Yoga Nidra takes place pretty much exclusively in Savasana, with the stillness of the body creating the environment for yogic sleep.

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