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How to Relax with the Yoga Corpse Posture

The simplest and yet the most difficult of all Yoga postures is the corpse posture (shavasana, from shava and asana, pronounced shah-vah sah-nah), also widely known as the dead posture (mritasana, from mrita and asana). 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’re 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.

If you’re high-strung, asana practice helps make the corpse posture more easily accessible.

Here’s how you do the corpse posture:

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

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

  2. Close your eyes.

  3. Form a clear intention to relax.

    Some people find picturing themselves lying in white sand on a sunny beach helpful.

  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’re relaxed.

    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, form the intention to keep the relaxed feeling for as long as possible.

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

Practice 10 to 30 minutes; the longer the duration, the better. But watch out! Relaxing for too long can make you drowsy.

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End Yoga relaxation peacefully

Allowing relaxation 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 have only 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.

How to stay awake during Yoga relaxation

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 you’re experiencing insomnia, however, you should 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’re conscious throughout the experience and can control it to some extent. Through relaxation, you become more in touch with your own body, which benefits you throughout the day: You can detect stress and tension in your body more readily 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 isn’t necessarily relaxing. That’s why people sometimes wake up feeling like they’ve done heavy work in their sleep.

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