I have been thinking about this pose a lot this week. It is such an important pose and in many ways we treat it as “just the thing we do” at the end of yoga class. For some it is “their favorite” pose and for others it can be a challenge to even close the eyes without tension and racing thoughts. As BKS Iyengar states in Light on Pranayama (pg 232), Savasana “is not simply lying on one’s back with a vacant mind and gazing, nor does it end in snoring. It is the most difficult of yogic asanas to perfect, but it is also the most refreshing and rewarding.”
He then proceeds to give a 20 page detailed description and instruction on this very important position – from the hoped for general effects to each detail of relaxation of the layers of our body parts, sense organs, and mind.
Just as we wander through life in a mostly unaware state, we approach Savasana in the same way. In a rush to relax after an energetic practice we just fall to the floor without a second thought. However, just as an uncontrolled movement or habit pulls us off our balance of center or our mental thoughts and fluctuations cause stress and anxiety, not paying attention in Savasana misses the whole point of attentive and alert clarity within complete release and surrender.
“First, learn to achieve the silence of the body. Then control the subtle movements of the breath. Next learn about the silence of the mind and the emotions and then of the intellect. From there proceed to learn and study about the silence of the Self. It is not until then that the ego or small self (ahamkara) of the practitioner can merge with his self (Atman). The fluctuations of the mind and intellect cease, the ‘I’ or ego disappears and Savasana provides an experience of unalloyed bliss.
Stages of Consciousness
Yoga teaches four main states of consciousness. The three normal ones are the state of seep sleep or spiritual ignorance, the dreamy or indolent state and lastly the state of watchfulness or awareness. There are varying stages between them. The fourth has a different dimension in which the sadhaka (practitioner) is spiritually illumined. Some call it the Eternal Now, beyond space and time. Others call it the soul becoming one with the Creator. This can be experienced in perfect savasana when the body is at rest as in deep sleep, the senses as in a dream but the intellect alert and aware. Such perfection, however, is rarely achieved. The sadhaka (practitioner) is then born anew or emancipated.”Light on Pranayama by BKS Iyengar – pg 233
We can look at Savasana as the practice of perfecting the fifth limb of yoga, Pratyahara, the drawing of the senses inward and preparing the body and mind for concentration and meditation. To be able to turn our senses away from external distraction means that our body needs to be settled in a manner that is not “pricking” our senses or mind outward. Take some time to find your perfect set-up of props to aid your optimal position.
“(Pratyahara) is a friend who releases you from the snares of the external world, and leads you towards happiness in the delight of the soul.”Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – BKS Iyengar commentary on Sutra II.54 (pg 161)
So, especially at this time when the outer world is uncertain, make sure to take time and make space to lie down, draw in, and don’t skimp on your Savasana!