When it’s time for the final relaxation in class you may well think “Aha! time for a snooze!” Indeed, you may feel like dozing off, as the physical practice has eased bodily tension and encouraged your breathing to slow down. If the body is very relaxed this may sometimes happen, but the idea of this practice is that while the body relaxes the mind stays in the moment and maintains an awareness of the breath, or any guided practice we may be using that day.
In this pose, we are looking to find a stillness of body, mind and senses, linked by a calm, even breath. If there is too much tension remaining (mental or physical), we will be unable to keep the mind or the body still. If there is insufficient attention, we will doze off.
The initial part of the relaxation practice will encourage you to release remaining tension from the body. We will often seek a sense of weight, as the body feels heavier when it relaxes. We will focus on the breath, as it settles into a steady, even rhythm (this is probably the point at which you want to drop off!).
We may stay with awareness of the body during the practice or sometimes use a visualisation, such as a healing light or imagining g a journey to a relaxing place. Visualisations give the mind an anchor to focus on whilst you relax and can boost your creativity as you practise envisioning the scenes described. They can also harness the power of positive thought to help you feel rested, healed and peaceful.
Savasana is known as the corpse pose, and here we allow ourselves to rest completely, as we might after death, free of all tension in mind and body. At the end of the practice, we move to the recovery position. This gives us some time to realign ourselves with the present moment and its similarity to a foetal position also symbolises a new beginning, ready to start again without the weight of previous tensions holding us down.
“Bring the body down to the mat in savasana or semi supine for our relaxation.” It’s the end of the class, the last few minutes and it’s time for our relaxation. This is an opportunity to allow the body to completely relax and absorb the benefits of the previous hour or so. Before we can do our relaxation practice, we need to bring the body into a suitable position, generally savasana (corpse pose) or semi supine. In Light on Pranayama, Iyengar dedicates a whole chapter to the practice of savasana, complete with figures to show the detail of the alignment, indicating the importance of this posture.
When we settle the body down to the mat in savasana it is important to position it in a balanced way, with the spine aligned along the length of the mat. This will mean that the energy can flow evenly and we are not restricting the blood supply to any part or imbalancing the muscles, eg with the feet crossed. In savasana the legs are straight. Some space between the feet will make it easier for the legs to relax, and the feet can just flop to the sides.
If this is not comfortable for you, you could try semi-supine instead or place a support such as a folded blanket under either the lumbar spine of the top of the thighs. You may also wish to place something under the head so the forehead is slightly higher than the chin. It is best to close the eyes, as we want the awareness to be with the body and breath rather than with the surroundings. The eyelids should be soft and the gaze of the eyes behind them relaxed. This helps to draw the awareness inside, towards the inner world.
The position of the arms is very important to help the chest and shoulders relax. The temptation is to have the arms on the mat, but unfortunately this is frequently a bit too close and tension is maintained in the shoulders. The ideal position will vary from person to person but generally speaking you need to allow some space between the upper arm and the rib cage. Then roll the arms outwards from the shoulder so the palms face up. It may be helpful to scrunch the shoulders up to the ears to feel the tension and then let it all go, perhaps with a sigh, so they settle down. If having the arms straight is not comfortable, an alternative would be to bend the elbows so you can place the hands softly on the belly. It’s best not to link the fingers, as this can stop the movement of breath into the belly as you relax.
After a while, coming into savasana will become second nature, but as with any posture a little trial and error is required to find the best position for you. You can always experiment at home so you can make the most of our relaxation next time you come to class. Next time we will look at what we are actually trying to do during the practice.