As a yoga teacher, I’ve watched thousands of agitated bodies, tapping hands and feet, darting eyes and spinning minds struggle as we anticipate savasana. There are even those who skip the restorative finish altogether and leave class early. When it comes to our final resting pose, restlessness can be very convincing, and our wandering thoughts can lead us into a landscape of torment instead of tranquility.
Even as a student, there have been times when I spent almost the entire class planning my escape, plotting the moment when I could slip out unnoticed and hurl myself back into the comfort of the insanity outside, only to discover that – like an unfinished conversation – leaving midstream is never satisfying.
So, how do we access the subtle terrain that leads us, ultimately, to more freedom, harmony, and possibility? Let’s start by settling into a classic savasana pose:
Lie down on your back, arms along your sides but not glued to your ribs, legs a little wider than hip distance apart. Allow your feet to naturally fall a bit open. If your lower back is tender, you might prefer to bend your knees and put your feet on the ground. Snuggle your shoulder blades to melt down your back instead of riding up into your ears. Feel the back of your head and the backs of your hands heavy on the ground. Let your fingers crinkle towards your palms with relaxation. Appreciate the support of the ground beneath you – how it literally has your back – reinforcing safe surrender. Imagine your muscles turning into liquid, and that liquid seeping into the floorboards beneath you, your bones sinking into the ground as if elementally returning to the earth. Enjoy being here for a few minutes and notice how you feel. Gently find your way out, then sit for a moment, allowing the serenity you uncovered to linger.
As I say in my book Close to Om, I believe we can take savasana anywhere at any time: at your desk when you need to take five, in your parked car after dropping off screaming kids, when you’ve tried in vain to reach an actual human being instead of an automated phone menu, or before starting a new project or task. In fact, I’m going to ask you to try to take three 30-second 'savasanas' throughout the day for the next week. You don’t have to do the actual pose (though you’re welcome to), but you do want to find your way towards the palpable calm you felt while in the posture. Physically you may not be sprawled out on the floor in the typical position, but mentally and emotionally you’re taking a savasana of sorts.
Just as we do with athletic poses like arm-balances and back-bends, we need to allow ourselves to discover that peaceful feeling in increments. It’s important to start by breaking things into manageable bits. I’m not asking you to sign up for hours of solemn silence and austere meditation, but simply to try this bite-sized practice consistently all week before you decide whether you’re going to the gym or reaching for the remote. When you feel you’ve arrived at thirty seconds, try a full minute, then maybe two. You might program your phone to send you reminders to take your three ‘savasanas’ throughout the day and to clock your stay while you’re in it.
Notice how the cumulative savasanas provide you with a platform from which to start again – how the death of chaos and commotion (ergo: corpse pose) gives birth to clarity and cogency. B.K.S. Iyengar (the father of the Iyengar style of yoga) likens savasana to a snake shedding its dead skin to reveal the vibrant colors of newness beneath. Creating a conscious 'savasana' timeout allows you to tune in. This, in turn, encourages you to make choices that come from mindful response instead of a stressed-out, mindless reaction. We make silly little choices all the time: what shirt to wear, whether to do single or double pigeon as our hip-opener, what to watch on Netflix, whether to follow someone on social media. Strung together, however, these choices are actually determining the path of our lives. If these seemingly insignificant moments are adding up to prodigious intervals, we want to ensure that they are leading us in the right direction. We need to pause, get clear, and remember the big picture our labyrinth of choices is designing.
Savasana’s not a frivolous, optional nap at the end of a yoga practice. It’s the most important pose we do. It’s where we truly integrate yoga’s body, mind, and spirit-unifying elements and find a deeper understanding of our true self. Savasana is not something you miss because you’re too busy, it’s because you’re too busy that it’s not to be missed. Savasana is a potent place where we can find mindful response versus mindless reaction on our mat and take it with us out into our lives. When we do, we begin to see, as playwright and poet T.S. Eliot put it, “The end is where we start from.”