Shavasana, or corpse pose, is usually done at the end of most yoga sessions. It is a deceptively simple posture, as there is no twisting, or stretching or anything that is usually associated with the asanas. However, corpse pose is an important part of the restorative yoga postures. And it is considered one of the most difficult postures to do correctly.
Shavasana is more about being than doing, and as such it touches on the fundamentals of what yoga is trying to achieve. The sequence of asanas beforehand has helped train the body and mind for this period of relaxation, and in the corpse pose we integrate the experience we have just had with yoga into our conscious and subconscious mind.
There are many restorative postures, or variations in yoga, but shavasana allows the most relaxation. Its benefits include:
- increase our energy levels
- great for stress
- good for normalizing blood pressure after exercise
- good for stress symptoms in breast cancer and prostate cancer sufferers
- good for people who don't get enough sleep, or who suffer insomnia
Corpse pose should be done lying flat, but still providing some support to the lumbar and cervical areas of the spine. Some people use a narrow, flat pillow for their head, whereas others just lie on the yoga mat without any props - do what feels most comfortable for you.
If the floor slopes, you should lie with your head in the downward sloping area, to facilitate blood supply to the brain. Your feet should be spread a little apart, with the arms and thighs slightly spread out, in an open and relaxed manner. Your palms and forearms should face up.
Try and start shavasana with your body mildly stretched out, so you feel elongated. This is recommended because the muscles of the torso, arms, and legs lengthen when they relax. The aim of shavasana is not to move until you are ready to get up. This helps quieten the motor neurons of the brain, and induces a feeling of greater relaxation, or 'letting go'. If you are positioned well, with enough space to allow your torso to relax and lengthen, you won't need to move until you finish.
You can either breathe through the abdomen or through the diaphragm. It is recommended that you practice abdominal breathing unless you are either an intermediate or advanced student of yoga. Breathing through the abdomen is the most relaxing, and diaphragmatic breathing is more of an energizing technique. It uses the chest and abdomen without interrupting the relaxation of the rest of the body. If you tend to breathe through your chest habitually, you should avoid this type of breathing, as you will tend to have a restricted type of thoracic breathing that is counterproductive to the aims of yoga generally, and corpse pose particularly.
Breathing through the abdomen during shavasana should not be forced. It should be relaxed and natural. But start 'where you are', and let your breathing settle as the experience of the posture deepens. The rate of breathing will slow down the more you become relaxed.
Try not to fall asleep during corpse pose. When we sleep, the motor neurons in the nervous system become more active, and the idea with the relaxation postures is to quieten them.
Start practicing shavasana for 3 to 5 minutes, then build up to 15 as your personal limits allow.
Come out of the corpse pose slowly, wiggling your toes and fingers, bringing the arms overhead to stretch them, and stretching down to your toes. Then roll over to one side, and slowly sit up when you're ready. If you have low blood pressure, you may need to turn onto the left side first before sitting up to avoid dizziness or fainting.