Deep Relaxation: Learning the Corpse Posture

The simplest and yet the most difficult of all Yoga postures is the corpse posture, also widely known as the dead pose. This posture is the simplest because you don't have to use any part of your body at all, and it's the most difficult precisely because you are asked to do nothing whatsoever with your limbs. The corpse posture is an exercise in mind over matter. The only props you need are your body and mind.

Here is how you do the corpse pose:

1. Lie flat on your back, with your arms stretched out and relaxed by your sides, palms up (or whatever feels most comfortable).

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Place a small pillow under your head if you need one and another large pillow under your knees for added comfort.

2. Close your eyes.

3. Form a clear intention to relax.

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Some people find it helpful to picture themselves lying in white sand on a sunny beach.

4. Take a couple of deep breaths, lengthening exhalation.

5. Contract the muscles in your feet for a couple of seconds and then consciously relax them.

Do the same with the muscles in your calves, upper legs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, back, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and face.

6. Periodically scan all your muscles from your feet to your face to check that they are relaxed.

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You can often detect subtle tension around the eyes and the scalp muscles. Also relax your mouth and tongue.

7. Focus on the growing bodily sensation of no tension and let your breath be free.

8. At the end of the session, before opening your eyes, make sure you stay relaxed for as long as possible.

9. Open your eyes, stretch lazily, and get up slowly.

Practice 10 to 30 minutes; the longer, the better.

Ending peacefully

Allowing this posture to end on its own is best — your body knows when it has benefited sufficiently and naturally brings you out of relaxation. However, if you only have a limited time for the exercise, set your mental clock to 15, 20, or however many minutes after closing your eyes as part of your intention. If you need to have a sound to remind you to return to ordinary waking consciousness, make sure that your wristwatch or clock isn't so loud that it startles you and provokes a heavy surge of adrenaline.

Staying awake during relaxation postures

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If it looks like you're going to fall asleep while doing the corpse posture, try bringing your feet closer together. Also, periodically pay attention to your breathing, making sure it's even and unforced. Catnaps are generally excellent; if, however, you're experiencing insomnia, save your sleep until you go to bed at night. In any case, the benefits of conscious relaxation are more profound than any catnap.

The beautiful thing about relaxation is that you are conscious throughout the experience and can control it, to some extent. Through relaxation, you become more in touch with your body, which benefits you throughout the day: You can detect stress and tension in your body quicker and then take remedial action. Also, you avoid the risk of feeling drowsy afterward because you inadvertently entered into a deeper sleep. Remember that sleep is not necessarily relaxing. That's why we sometimes wake up feeling like we've done heavy work in our sleep.

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