The vast majority of yoga classes conclude with savasana, or corpse pose (i.e., “final relaxation”), in which one lies on the floor with legs extended and arms resting comfortably at the sides, palms facing up. The fact that savasana is nearly universal in the world of yoga demonstrates how powerful the pose is. Renowned yoga teacher and physical therapist Judith Lasater describes the practice of savasana as a practice that “...teaches us to dis-identify from our thoughts. Learning savasana might be our first experience of learning that we are not our thoughts,” she explains. “We have them, but that is not who we are.”
The fact that savasana is nearly universal in the world of yoga demonstrates how powerful the pose is.
This is a powerful effect for a single pose. But what do you do if lying flat on your back doesn’t feel good, or if it’s contraindicated for you? For some, lying supine may not be accessible. Does this mean they have to miss out on what’s potentially the best, most transformational part of their practice? No, not at all!
Although lying supine on the floor is the most common way of practicing savasana, it is not the only way. Here are some ways you can practice savasana when lying flat on your back isn’t working for you.
Prone savasana is one of my absolute favorites. To practice this variation of savasana, lie on your belly with your hands stacked and elbows bent out to the side, forehead resting on your hands. Make sure you can comfortably breathe through your nose. For extra support, try placing a single-folded blanket comfortably under your torso (with the lowest edge beneath the hip points), leaving the pelvis in a slightly posteriorly or “cat” tilted pelvis. With or without the blanket, your legs can be spaced anywhere from hip bone-distance apart to wider than your mat. The legs can be neutral or slightly turned out.
This version of savasana is particularly suitable for those with lower back pain, those with sensitivity in the back of the hips and tailbone, and/or those who feel uncomfortable with the front body facing the ceiling (as may some young women going through puberty, for example, which is why this is a good option to offer if you teach yoga to teenagers).
Savasana can also be practiced lying on your side, with your body either unsupported or supported with props. There are many ways to prop this pose. You can line your mat with a blanket for extra padding, place a bolster between your inner thighs, use a block between your ankles, and/or place a blanket under your head. You can also place a bolster or large pillow behind your back for extra support.
While resting on your side, bend your legs slightly in front of you. You can extend the arm of the side on which you’re lying so that your head rests on your upper arm, letting your other arm drape down in front of your body, or simply place your arms in any position that feels natural and comfortable for you.
Side-lying savasana is appropriate in the same situations as prone savasana. It is also good for women more than 20 weeks pregnant, in which case it is best practiced on the left side (to decrease the risks of pressure on the inferior vena cava, which could decrease blood and oxygen supply to mom and baby).
I love to practice elevated savasana! I use either a bolster or a blanket (folded so that it comfortably supports the length of my spine, as would a bolster) for a deeper opening of the chest. An additional blanket can be used under the head to support your neck.
Sit in front of the bottom edge of the bolster/blanket and lie back, resting your spine over the bolster/blanket. The head should be completely supported by the props—so those with a longer torso may need additional support along the spine and back of the head. The legs are extended long in front of you, as in your traditional savasana, with a slight hinge at the hip. The legs can be neutral (held together with a strap, which may be recommended if you have slight lower back or sacroiliac joint pain) or slightly externally rotated. The arms rest down at a 45 to 60-degree angle from the sides of your body. If your hands do not reach the floor, place blankets, blocks, or towels underneath them.
This propped version of savasana is excellent for opening up the chest and allowing the breath to move easily in and out of the body. It’s great for anyone with difficulty breathing (due to asthma, a cold, or any other condition), or with upper back pain.
These variations are just a taste of the many ways you can practice savasana. You can create other alternative forms of the pose using different positions and different props to support your body for total relaxation.
With these variations in your yogi toolbox, you can practice savasana even when the classic form of the pose is inaccessible—allowing you to reap its powerful benefits after every single practice!
So, what’s your favorite savasana?