As a yoga teacher, I find it so rewarding to watch students settle into stillness at the end of class. There’s something so sweet and so special about agreeing as a group to let our guard down, to take off our social masks, and to trust each other enough to completely relax and let go in one another’s presence … to just BE together. It’s pure magic.
Savasana, aka Corpse pose, is the resting practice at the end of a yoga class. It involves lying down and consciously relaxing tension’s grip on your body and then just ... being there ... for about 10-15 minutes
Students tend to either love it or loathe it. If you’re the sort of person that craves intense stimulation, you probably have a hard time surrendering to savasana. You might even find it pointless and frustrating. If you’re a busy person with things to do, you may not think you have time to lie on the floor and do ‘nothing’. And you would be right – except that when you do savasana, it only looks like you’re doing nothing. Beneath savasana’s surface, there are a mind-boggling array of physiological processes taking place in support of your health and well-being. Prepare to be inspired, surprised and delighted about the benefits of rest.
1) Your Body Heals and Regenerates
Unchecked stress wreaks havoc on every system of your body, creating wear and tear that can have serious health consequences. When you relax in savasana, you turn on your body’s healing response, also known as the ‘Relaxation Response’. In this state, your body can direct energy towards restorative and regenerative functions. For example, when you're stressed, blood flows to your muscles, tensing them in preparation to fight or flee from danger. When you rest, that blood gets redirected towards digestive functions and tissue repair. The table below shows a small sampling of the ways in which stress can wear you down and rest helps you to heal.
2) Fat Loss
A 2013 National Institute of Health study found that Restorative Yoga (a style of yoga that involves lying down in relaxing poses like savasana) also helps people lose substantial subcutaneous fat.
The study took place over 48 weeks and involved two groups of people: one that did a routine of basic stretching exercises and another that took part in a restorative yoga routine. Both groups lost weight, but the restorative yoga group lost more than 2.5 times the amount of subcutaneous fat as the stretch group during the first 6 months. They also did better at keeping the weight off.
How does lying on the floor and relaxing change your body? Clearly it's not by torching calories and working up a sweat!
Researchers believe it has something to do with cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. High cortisol levels contribute to weight again - particularly around the abdomen. And yoga, in general, reduces cortisol levels.
It's also worth considering that stress can lead to a poor diet (ask anyone that's dived into a plate of fries at the end of a tough day). If you're a 'stress eater' a relaxation practice could simply offer a different avenue for dealing with stress.
3) Become a More Relaxed Human Being
It is possible. You can do it. You can learn to be relaxed and awake at the same time, even. Relaxation is a valuable and trainable skill that you can take off of your mat and use in everyday life. It can help you feel more in control of your emotions and become less reactive. It can also help you deal better with anxiety, depression and sleep problems.
4) Integrate New Learning
Your nervous system processes new learning when you rest. All those new movement skills you learned in yoga class? Your integrate and assimilate them better when you make time for rest at the end of practice. This goes for ANY movement practice; not just yoga.
5) Stimulate Creativity
Relaxation stimulates activity in the right hemisphere of your brain (your left brain is the side that analyzes, calculates and deliberates). Right-brain activation is the doorway to holistic, big-picture thinking. It allows you to connect far-flung dots and think outside the box. Some of my students bring journals to class – because their best ideas come to them right after savasana! If you feel stuck in a problem that’s crying out for a creative solution, try rest.
If you’re thinking ‘all of this sounds great, but …’ you struggle with relaxation, here are some tips for a more successful savasana
1. Do something active first
If your mind is racing, .you may not be able to relax at all. Get the ants out of your pants and burn of some energy to prepare yourself for rest.
2. Minimize sensory stimulation
Get ready to relax the same way you get ready for sleep at night. Get comfortable, turn the lights down, minimize noise and make sure you’re warm. Eliminate distracting sensations. You won’t be able to relax if you’re overstimulated or uncomfortable.
3. Give yourself time
It takes time to unwind. Give yourself 10 – 20 minutes if you can – and try to be patient with the process.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice –Your ability to relax gets better with practice. Just like improving muscles strength, you have to do plenty of reps to see growth!
Savasana brings you into the here and now and into the realm of limitless possibility. To open up to creativity and your body’s natural healing processes all you have to do is lie down, breathe, relax, tune into bodily sensations, and observe with a passive state of mind. Practice makes you peaceful.
Additional Reading and Resources
The Relaxation Response by Dr. Herbert Bensen
Araneta M, Allison MA, Barrett-Connor E, Kanaya AM. Overall and regional fat change: results from the Practice of Restorative Yoga or Stretching for Metabolic Syndrome (PRYSMS) study. Results presented at: 73rd Scientific Session of the American Diabetes Association; June 22, 2013; Chicago, IL.
Feasibility of Integration of Yoga in a Behavioral Weight‐Loss Intervention: A Randomized Trial - Jakicic - 2021 - Obesity - Wiley Online Library
A recent study on the role of yoga in weight loss for adults with obesity or overweight that concluded restorative hatha and vinyasa yoga were equally effective as part of a weight-loss program. this is great news as Restorative yoga is more accessible than Vinyasa - and just as effective.
Clean living (‘Saucha’ in Sanskrit) is part of a yoga lifestyle. The path of yoga is actually a process of ‘cleaning up’ our lives – body, breath, mind, heart and relationships – so we can experience peace, harmony and freedom. It is REALLY hard to find peace when your life and relationships are a mess.
If you want it, you gotta roll up your sleeves and do some work to CREATE it. When you clean, reorganize and let go of things that stand in the way of harmonious living, you clear a path that leads in the right direction.
There are so many ways to engage in saucha as a practice. You don't have to do them all. But, as you read on, notice which suggestions make you feel inspired. That's the perfect place for you to begin.
FOR YOUR BODY
Adopt a Daily Movement Practice
Movement stimulates circulation and delivers oxygen to every cell in your body so it can work optimally and thrive. Regular movement allows your cells to ‘breathe’, keeps your tissues hydrated, improves your immune system function, lubricates your joints and helps to keep your body healthy and strong. Good movement ‘hygiene’ is critical to your health and well-being. Commit to moving every day in the same way that you commit to brushing your teeth. Your health depends on it!
Eating ‘clean’ means eating foods that nourish and contribute to good health and avoiding foods that don’t. When you can, opt for fresh foods, rather than processed. It’ll do your body and your health a world of good.
Skin and Bodycare
Pay attention to the kinds of products you use on your body. A lot of cosmetics are toxic. You can avoid many of the harmful ingredients in personal care products by making a trip to your local health food store or natural beauty shop to find soaps, moisturizers, makeup, and hair products created specifically with your health and well-being in mind. This minimizes harm to both you and the environment (another key tenet of yoga is not causing harm).
FOR YOUR MIND
A wonderfully refreshing breathing practice that calms, clears and cools your mind.
ADDED BONUS: the cooling effect of Sitali also makes you feel minty fresh on the inside.
-it boosts your ability to think clearly
-reduces your risk of anxiety and depression.
-helps you to work more productively
-improves your mood and sleep (which improves memory and thinking).
If you’ve got a mental block and need to clear your head, a simple remedy is to just get up and move.
FOR YOUR HEART
The famous activist/designer William Morris said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” Apply the same rule to your relationships. Welcome and nurture relationships that are beautiful and beneficial. If you’ve got relationships that are past their ‘best before’ date, clean them out. Put up healthy boundaries.
FOR YOUR COMMUNITY
We can’t just ‘om’ life’s problems away. Yoga doesn’t work like that. Racism, social injustice, pollution and climate change: these issues require our attention and our action if they’re going to get better. And yoga IS A PATH OF ACTION. You are meant to take yoga philosophy to heart - and bring it to life. Actively cleaning up our communities is a form of embodying ‘cleanliness’ and ‘harm prevention’ (another key tenet of yoga). As yoga practitioners, we are required to roll up our sleeves and use our own two hands to create a peaceful living environment – not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
By all means, recharge on your mat and create peace in your own body and mind – but don’t let your practice begin and end there. Spread peace.
FOR YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Marie Kondo the heck out of your life! An clean & organized living/working environment improves focus and mental clarity. It allows you to be more positive and productive. And it generally makes everyday functioning go more smoothly. When you don’t attend to your TO DO list, when loose papers take over your home and disorganization rules, you compromise your ability to focus on what is important. The dishes in the sink, the unpaid phone bill, the report you should have submitted yesterday, etc. It all gets in the way of getting to work on the things you really value. Don’t let that pile up!
Clean your home or your workspace. When you’re finished, notice how you feel. (and in the midst of your cleaning frenzy, consider using natural products that don’t contain chemical ingredients that will harm you or the planet).
A yoga practice extends beyond the edges of your mat. It is a lifelong journey that helps bring balance to every area of life. When you pay attention to cleanliness, and actively participate in cleaning up your little corner of the world: your body, your breath, your mind, your heart, your community, your environment - you improve the quality of life for yourself and for others.
It’s easy to feel content when everything is going your way. But, as you know, life doesn’t always go your way. As a human being, you are guaranteed a mixed bag of experiences. Some of them, you’ll like; others...not so much. Births, deaths, loves, breakups, financial wins and losses, and someone eating the potato chips you were saving for later … it’s all par for the course.
In yogic terms, practicing contentment is a process of intentionally waking up to the good things in your life RIGHT NOW, regardless of whatever else may be going on. Even when life is less than perfect. Because life is always less than perfect. Contentment will elude you forever if you wait around for perfection. Practicing contentment means taking matters into your own hands. And here's a great place to start:
It is a natural remedy for dissatisfaction. And to start a gratitude practice, all you need to do is make some time each day to identify things you have to be grateful for. It could be something as simple as having a giggle at a ridiculous Youtube cat video. I mean, who can’t use a giggle right now? It could also be for something bigger, like a loving relationship or your health. Every. Little. Thing. counts when it comes to counting your blessings!
Taking up a gratitude practice does not ask you to deny the difficulties you’re experiencing.* What it DOES do is help you notice the good that’s sitting right alongside your problems. Gratitude can’t take your problems away, but it can provide a counterbalance to your mind’s tendency to ruminate about whatever is lacking in your life. So you have a more balanced perspective.
Here’s what science has to say about how gratitude breeds contentment. It:
- Opens the door to new relationships. Of COURSE it does! Everyone wants to spend time with someone that demonstrate love and appreciation for you
- Improves physical and psychological health
- Increases empathy
- Improves self-esteem
- Helps to overcome trauma
Here are 7 practices you can do to experience more gratitude & contentment in your life starting now:
1) SET AN INTENTION
Say to yourself “I have everything I need in this moment. I have enough. I do enough. I am enough.” Write it on a post-it note. Place it on your mirror where you’ll see it every time you visit the bathroom. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
2) RECOGNIZE EACH BREATH AS A GIFT
Take a walk, find a handsome looking tree, stand next to it and take a few deep breaths. As you inhale be aware that the oxygen you’re taking in is a gift to you, courtesy of the trees. As you breathe out carbon dioxide, know that your tree will inhale it and transform it into more oxygen for you. Breath is an easy gift to take for granted – because we do it so frequently (20,000+ times a day). For just a few moments, practice being conscious of the fact that you and the tree are exchanging the gift of life. Sit and breathe together awhile. And while you’re there, appreciate the beauty of nature.
3) FIND THE GIFTS INSIDE YOUR PROBLEMS
If 2020 were a factory, it would be in the business of manufacturing fear and discontentment. And business would be booming! To get personal, 2020 really did a number on me. 2021 isn’t looking like it came to play either. I’m a full-time yoga teacher working on my last year of a Kinesiology degree. What has allowed me to do be a full-time yoga teacher/student in the past is the fact that I spend my weekends and summers travelling and teaching workshops and trainings. They were ALL cancelled in 2020. ALL of them. That was, and IS, very bad for me financially. However, life is made of more than dollars and cents.
As a direct result of this tremendous loss of work, I found myself with A LOT of free time (the gift sitting alongside my problem) … to practice yoga, to write, to lift weights, to hike with my dog, to think about what I wanted to do next and to start building an incredible new online yoga business. Time is a precious gift. I would not have had any time for those things had I not lost so much work!
Since the pandemic started, I have leaned HARD into my gratitude practice. It’s the spoonful of sugar that helps me swallow some of the harsher realities every day.
4) START AND END YOUR DAY WITH A GRATITUDE MEDITATION
This is the practice that starts my day every day.
5) PRACTICE RESTORATIVE YOGA
A soothing supportive pose offers you the gift of enjoying a quiet restful moment of solitude. There is nothing to do or get or achieve in restorative yoga. Simply savor the simplicity and sweetness of the moment as you lie down and practice doing nothing. Nowhere to go; nothing to do, but let go of ‘doing’ mind and let yourself ‘be’. It’s a practice in contentment.
6) KEEP A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
Write down 15 things you are grateful for today! You could post the list on your fridge where its visible and you can give yourself frequent reminders of the good tings happening in your life. Read it often and add to the list whenever you think of something more to be grateful for. This could be a fun activity to do with the family. Everyone keeps adding to the list.
7) THINK OF SOMEONE WHOSE PRESENCE IN YOUR LIFE YOU ARE GRATEFUL FOR THIS PAST YEAR
Tell them. Specifically, tell them what they did that made you so grateful and how it impacted you positively. When you do, you give them something to be grateful for too: someone noticing the good in them.
Gratitude, as a practice, comes from actively looking for whoever/whatever is good in your life and expressing appreciation for that. When you practice gratitude:
1) You affirm that there ARE, in fact, good things in the world. When life’s not going so well, reminding yourself of this can give you a much-needed psychological boost.
2) You recognize that you are the lucky recipient of gifts and blessings in life.
3) You recognize that the source of many of the good things in life is outside of you. This means that you are part of something bigger, and can spark feelings of community, connection, belonging and joy!
4) Gratitude creates an abundance mindset. If you believe ‘I have enough’ that is the springboard for so many other wonderful qualities, like contentment and generosity.
Wherever you find yourself – whether in circumstance good or bad; pleasant or unpleasant, remember that every challenging situation also has a gift and a lesson in it.
We can’t know the ultimate consequences of our current situation. Try to keep a balanced and open mind, and keep looking for the good.
*Denying your problems under the guise of spirituality is called 'spiritual bypassing.
Read about ‘spiritual bypassing’ here.