“Savasana is where people are most likely to experience the meaning of yoga, which is their conscious unity with Infinity… You lie there and look dead, but as you relax and sink into the feeling of the very alive energy that is being you, it literally feels like you come to life again.”–Erich Schiffman
Savasana isn’t the “sexiest” of poses–rarely do you see an Instagram post showing someone getting deep rest. But it’s arguably the most important asana in a yoga class. Savasana helps balance out the nervous system after an asana class and “recalibrate” the body. Most importantly, the number one reason for making Savasana a priority in your practice and in classes (if you are a teacher), is that it helps relieve stress. Stress is a state in which many of us constantly live, and which can have very poor effects on our health, including reducing our libido, affecting the quality of our sleep and our digestion, the health of our heart, and the strength of our immune system.
Restorative Yoga expert Judith Hanson Lasater says that we need 15 minutes for our bodies to move into the stage of Savasana where you deeply relax and your thoughts drift away. I know that when I give myself or am given this long to be in Savasana, I am in a completely different state of mind when I come out–my skin is flushed and radiant; I feel what I can only describe as “healthy”. This is a distinctly different state than “strung out”, which is where I often find myself living.
As a yoga teacher, I realize that in public classes, this is a helluva lot of time to devote to Savasana, even though I believe that it is in fact the most important pose we do in a class. So, how to handle Savasana as a modern yoga teacher with all the things we want to accomplish in what are increasingly 60- to 75-minute classes?
1. At least a 6-minute Savasana: I believe I learned from Judith Lasater herself that it takes the body 6 minutes to shift into parasympathetic nervous system activation and “rest and digest” mode. Giving your students 6-10 minute Savasana will ensure that they get the full benefit of this pose.
2. Don’t use songs with English lyrics: The goal of Savasana is to let students drop out of their personal narrative and conscious, individual mind into a sense of expansive awareness. Songs with English lyrics will keep students attached to their conscious mind and in their day and habitual thinking. Try songs with Sanskrit lyrics or no lyrics at all. Definitely do not use any song that is recognizable from the radio as students may already have an emotional association with that song and be kicked right back into that memory when hearing it.
3. Pay close attention to the rhythm and percussion in a song: Any song with a strong beat or which has a crescendo is energizing for students and will have the opposite effect that Savasana is meant to impart, a letting go of action and moving into relaxation. Savasana is not the time to use a “theme” song with lyrics that are inspiring–use your playlist to do that if you have a strong intention you would like to weave into class. Savasana is a time for a complete lack of thinking, including anything related to inspiration.
4. Create a restful environment: The room for Savasana should be dark, still, and a comfortable temperature. My preference is to turn the lights gradually down as I move students through the”denouement” of a class, or the poses in response to a peak pose that prepare a student for their final rest in Savasna. If you have a fan on during class, turn it down as soon as students begin to forward fold. If you have a heated room, be sure that you have already turned off the heat immediately after backbending postures. Give students props to make them comfortable (e.g., bolsters under their knees to relieve tightness in their lower backs or blankets under their heads and necks to relieve tightness in the shoulders). Ask everyone in the studio to keep the volume of their voices down while your class is in Savasana.
5. Prepare for Savasana appropriately: In the arc of a class, a backbend is often a “peak” of the sequence and the most energizing pose due to the compression of the adrenals and the ensuing release of adrenaline into the body. It is important to stabilize the back and broaden the adrenal area slowly and safely after backbending to prepare students to move into Savasana, otherwise they will be lying down with adrenaline surging through their system and unable to rest. Grounding the pelvis with Supta Padangustasana, lengthening out the back body with gentle forward folds, doing a gentle supine twist, and other similarly cooling poses are excellent preparation for Savasana.
My teacher Christina Sell says that a rested student is a return student (I’m paraphrasing). Not only will you fulfill on what is surely one of your aims as a teacher, to make people feel better, but you will prepare your students for a long, sustainable yoga practice by taking the care to give them a Savasana that is rejuvenating and restful.