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What Happens During Savasana?

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Ahhhh, Savasana. The ultimate relaxation practice. The easiest pose to perform but the hardest to master, Savasana is a deeply renewing experience for our mind, body and spirit.

There are so many benefits to absorb during the ten minutes of relaxation at the end of class. The body settles, energy levels restore, and our entire being recalibrates. It is a mindfulness practice requiring no effort or exertion. There is a heightened awareness and acceptance of the body’s natural state. A shift from hyper-stimulation to calmness occurs.

The mental, physical, and emotional effects of Corpse Pose are felt immediately after we finish our practice. Remember–we are not simply taking a nap during Savasana. We are grounding our mind and body to achieve a deeper connection with our subconscious processes. The more our brain and body are able to communicate, the better our body functions.

Mental Effects

Let’s talk interoception. Interoception is the insight on the physiological condition of the body and is associated with the autonomous nervous system and autonomic motor control. Basically, it’s the sense of the internal state of the body. It allows us to answer the question, “How do I feel?” at any given time. Without interoception, we would be unable to determine if we are hungry, hot, cold, etc. We use this sense constantly during yoga and refine it during Savasana.

Our autonomic nervous system is linked to the bodily functions that occur automatically, such as our breathing. When that is linked to a state of subjective feeling, we are able to notice (and therefore alter) our breathing. We allow our mental energy to flow inward to explore what’s happening inside of our body. When sensory stimulation and external distractions are minimized, we can fully ground ourselves on our mat and truly slow down for a few minutes.

The meditative state we achieve in this pose slows our active beta brainwaves (which are associated with logic, alertness and reasoning) in favor of alpha and theta brainwaves (which are linked to creativity). Alpha activity indicates wakefulness with our eyes closed and often precedes sleep. These are the gateway to our subconscious mind–they often emerge while we daydream! Theta brainwaves are present during deep meditation and light sleep. The mind’s most deeply embedded programs reside here. We have exceptional insight in this state. Our body is in pure relaxation mode while our mind is connected to our body’s processes.

While we experience this shift from asana/vinyasa practice to Savasana, external focus to internal focus, and beta brainwaves to alpha and theta brainwaves, we experience balance in our body as we switch away from our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) to our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). Our mind and body go through down-regulation to find stillness after our practice (or a long day!)

Physical Effects

Thoughts pass through our mind and feelings pass through our body during our practice. We wonder if we’re aligned correctly, if we’re breathing correctly, if anyone heard our stomach growl, and everything else under the sun. The fact is, poses require equal parts mental and physical effort. Asanas warm us and help to unwind our bodies while placing forces on it to break habitual movement patterns. Once we get to final relaxation, our body ‘cools’ in its new mold.

Muscular and skeletal tension is consciously released in said ‘mold.’ Deep layers of stress are exposed as surface tension melts away during our final relaxation. As we feed our body new information, our nerves, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and brain absorb it as we re-align. The longer we stay here, the more we accept.

A common rule of thumb for most yoga instructors is to allot 10 minutes of class time for Savasana. A profound shift happens around minute six, when the chatter in our heads begins to cease and we can float around inside our body with a calm mind, steady breath and easy heart.

Practice Savasana with pranayama (breath control)! An easy way to begin is to think, “I breathe in for 10 seconds, I breathe out for 10 seconds. Breathe in for 9, breathe out for 9, in for 8, out for 8…” You may not get all the way to one…and that’s the goal.

Emotional Effects

Pratyahara – withdrawing from senses and gaining mastery over external influences and distractions.

Remember earlier in this piece when I said, “When sensory stimulation and external distractions are minimized, we can fully ground ourselves on our mat and truly slow down for a few minutes”? This is pratyahara. It’s the practice of withdrawing from external information so we can truly hear and feel the sounds and sensations coming from within us. As you can tell, pratyahara and interoception work harmoniously together. We are trying NOT to take everything into ourselves from the outside so our thoughts and feelings are not dictated by external forces.

When we apply these two concepts and remember the goal of Savasana–to just be–we can uncover our most genuine self. We must first make room in our mind for the dust to settle before we can see, hear and feel our entire being with clarity.

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