Trouble Relaxing in Savasana? Here’s a Simple Practice that Can Help
What if you can’t relax—even after lying in the corpse posture for ten minutes? Unwinding is easier said than done—especially when you’re hyped up on coffee, negative emotions, hectic schedules, looming exams.
Maybe you know this scenario: your body is settled in shavasana, but your mind is up and running—fighting traffic, or revising a fight you had with your husband (this time, you win). Vaguely, you visualize your breath sweeping from your head to your toes and up again, but mentally you’re miles away. At some point, you stop drifting and notice: your abdomen is locked, your hands are clenched in fists, and your shoulders are hiked up to your ears. What happened?
The problem is that you’re going through the motions with a hyperactive mind. As a result, you can’t give the relaxation process the attention it needs to work its magic. The key to success? Focus on the breath. According to the yogis, it’s the bridge between body and mind. Chances are, if you focus on breathing slower, deeper, and without pause, you’ll quiet your mental chatter and calm your nervous system. Then your mind and your muscles will surrender naturally.
Start over: Lie on your back in shavasana (the corpse posture) with a cushion under your neck. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest. Before you have a chance to think, tune into the movements of your body as you breathe. Notice the feeling of your breath emptying your lungs as you exhale, and filling them as you inhale.
Before you have a chance to think, tune into the movements of your body as you breathe.
Next, check to see if your chest is moving. If so, relax your rib cage and focus on breathing solely with your abdomen. Let the inhalation and exhalation be approximately equal in length.
Gradually deepen the breath and slow it down: On your next exhalation, gently engage your abdominal muscles and push a little extra air out of the lungs. Then, let your abdomen rise slightly higher as you inhale.
(It might be helpful to count your in and out breaths in even ratios—starting, perhaps, with 3:3, then moving up to 6:6—whatever is within your comfortable capacity.) Focus on this exercise for several minutes.
Then begin to weave the breaths together, reducing and smoothing out the pause between inhalation and exhalation. Imagine the movement of a car on a Ferris wheel, and apply its cycle to your breath. As you inhale, visualize the car ascending. It slows and levels off at the top of the ride, and merges smoothly into the descent as you exhale. At the bottom there is another leveling off, and the car rises again, smoothly, in the next ascent. Work with this practice for a few more minutes. As you settle into deeper breathing, your thoughts will begin to fall away as you embrace the present moment with a sense of comfort, peace, and ease.
When you are ready to come out of shavasana, bring your revitalized breath (and nervous system) with you. Roll onto your left side and stay there longer than usual (don’t pop up, give yourself a head rush, and run blindly to your next destination). Take several of the same slow, deep, unpaused breaths here. Then sit up slowly and prepare to greet the world.
Former Yoga International editor-in-chief Shannon Sexton writes about food, travel, yoga, and natural health.