How to Relax with the Yoga Corpse Posture
The simplest, yet most difficult, of all Yoga postures is the corpse posture (savasana, from shava and asana, pronounced shah-vah sah-nah). 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.
If you’re high-strung, asana practice helps make the corpse posture more easily accessible.
Here’s how you do the corpse posture:
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.
Close your eyes.Credit: Photograph by Adam Latham
Form a clear intention to relax.
Some people picture themselves lying in white sand on a sunny beach.
Take a couple deep breaths, lengthening exhalation.
Contract the muscles in your feet for a couple seconds and then consciously relax them; do the same with the muscles in your calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, chest, back, hands, forearms, upper arms, shoulders, neck, and face.
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, jaw, and tongue.
Focus on the growing bodily sensation of no tension, and let your breath be free.
At the end of the session, before opening your eyes, form the intention to keep the relaxed feeling for as long as possible.
Open your eyes, stretch, roll to one side, 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.
Ending 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, you can find any number of free or low-cost apps for your smartphone. You can set the timer for the length you like and be awakened by a pleasant sound of your choosing, like a bell or gong.
Staying awake during 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, 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 part of relaxation is that you’re conscious throughout the experience and can control it to some extent. Through relaxation, you get more in touch with your own body, which benefits you throughout the day: You detect stress and tension in your body more readily and then take appropriate 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 — people sometimes wake up feeling like they’ve done heavy work in their sleep.