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.