The Power of Savasana
By Ali Shevlin (Rukmini)
Over time, our experience of yoga asanas evolves beyond the physical — the postures become our teachers and companions, showing us our relationship with ourselves and the world. Enjoy this collection of stories submitted by Sivananda Yoga practitioners from around the world, sharing their in-depth connections with each asana of the Sivananda sequence.
Many people don’t consider savasana a “proper” asana. In fact, some don’t even consider it an asana at all. A couple of years ago, I was one of them.
I once thought of savasana as a nice ten-minute lie-down after a sweaty yoga class. It was a chance for my body and breath to get themselves back together before I headed back out into the busy world. When my friend bought me a t-shirt with the slogan, “I’m only here for the savasana,” I laughed and thought it was cute. I never actually thought that savasana could be that important.
Two years, one Sivananda Yoga Teaching Training Course, and two months of karma yoga later, my views on savasana have completely changed.
Swami Vishnudevananda taught that savasana is vitally important, so much so that he included it in the Five Points of Yoga — even apart from asana. You wouldn’t run a car with no cooling system, he said, so why run your body without one? Proper relaxation — and by this he meant savasana, not reading or watching tv or even sleeping — is vital for allowing the body and mind the time and space to cool down properly. It sounds simple, but putting it into practice was actually one of my hardest lessons during my time at the ashram.
The Sivananda sequence of asanas, and the emphasis placed on savasana not only at the end but also throughout the sequence, taught me firstly to view savasana as it really is and how Swami Vishnudevananda taught it … as a vital way for my body to relax and recharge. I learned first hand that without these short periods of relaxation, my body simply couldn’t absorb the healing effects and benefits of all the other asanas.
Without implementing the principles of savasana, I realized that yoga was just another workout that left me feeling tired and achy. And even knowing its importance, it still me a long time to feel comfortable lying quietly and calmly in stillness.
For my typical Vata-Pitta type (for anyone not familiar with Ayurveda, that’s a lot of air and fire energy), surrendering and opening my body in a completely relaxed position on the floor was not something that came naturally. In my previous yoga classes, I got away with keeping my arms folded over my body, or keeping my legs closer together … but the ashram taught me differently. I learned that, dramatic as it sounds, it takes courage to leave your body exposed and vulnerable … even in the safest and friendliest of yoga classes.
Once I overcame my resistance to lying in stillness, I faced yet another challenge — my ever-present monkey mind. Savasana, when practiced properly, requires mental as well as physical relaxation. As the body settles into stillness, the mind is meant to follow. In other words, the mind isn’t supposed to hop from thoughts of brunch to laundry to friends’ birthday gift ideas. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna teaches Arjuna the concept of “action in inaction,” the idea that while there might be the outer appearance of stillness, there is motion on the inside that cannot be seen. While the body can look completely still and relaxed, the mind might still be going a hundred miles an hour … not very relaxing!
The other alternative I found was to fall asleep. Again, not really the point.
Finding that sweet spot where both body and mind are still, awake, and relaxed is the ultimate challenge of savasana, and one that I continue to grapple with in my daily yoga practice. It’s one of the hardest parts for me, and I know I’m not alone in that. For many of us, savasana shows us how hard it can be to tame the mind in order to tap into its power.
I can stand on my head, twist into a pretzel, and balance on one leg — yet relaxing fully and properly is hard. But experiencing the sweetness of savasana keeps me going because when I do get to experience true relaxation, it’s an indescribable feeling.
It’s those times when I understand the idea of just “being there” for the savasana. Ironically, now though, I can’t find the t-shirt.
Every week from January 1 – March 26, 2018, we will be sharing a new story — You can access all of the current ones here.