If you have practiced yoga with an instructor, you have likely heard him or her say that the final relaxation pose (savasana or corpse pose) is the most important or most beneficial posture in your practice.
When I first started practicing yoga, I thought this statement had to be false, and that it was just a saying that instructors would use to get their students to lie down for a few minutes without fidgeting or getting up to leave. At the time, I had no patience for this and would prefer to do some more yoga postures rather than be still. Yet, as my practice and philosophical studies progressed, I was able to access the true purpose and benefits of the final resting posture.
Final relaxation pose is often the most challenging aspect and one of the most beneficial postures of your yoga practice for a multitude of reasons. For some, lying still and not fidgeting can be difficult; for others, keeping the mind still and quiet poses a challenge — especially at the end of class when to-do lists start to come back into focus.
Here are just a few reasons why I think this part of your yoga practice is so important:
1. The ancient tradition of yoga is more than the physical postures (asanas).
What we practice as yoga today is only one part of the eight-limbed yogic path. Traditionally, the asana practice is designed to help prepare the body for seated meditation and stillness of body and mind. Today, we practice final relaxation pose at the end of class as a way to meditate on the intention or energy that was cultivated and learn how to let the body and mind rest and relax.
We are a culture that works hard to be strong: physically, mentally, emotionally — strength is often viewed as an important quality. The final relaxation pose is so important because it’s an opportunity to work easy, instead of hard. It teaches us to surrender, to relax, to let go, and to be present yet still. It's not about falling asleep but more about going into a deep relaxation and meditation in which you integrate and absorb the benefits of your practice.
2. Even the most advanced practitioner may still find it challenging to remain motionless in body and mind during the final relaxation pose.
Skipping this pose because you can't lie still, quiet your mind, or have somewhere to be immediately after class, in my opinion, makes the practice incomplete. Those who skip the final relaxation pose are often the individuals who could benefit the most from practicing stillness and quiet.
I used to be the student who would leave right before the end of class. I didn’t have time to just lie there. I wanted either to be moving or on my way to whatever was next. When I started delving deeper into my practice, I discovered the sweetness of this pose, the benefits of stillness, and the importance of quieting my mind and resting. Now I often enjoy an extended final relaxation pose meditation because I have felt more benefits from learning to relax my body and mind than I ever would have expected starting out.
3. Relating yoga on the mat to your practices and life off of the mat can be a tremendously powerful tool.
When I couldn’t stay in final relaxation pose, I realized that I would get bored with idle time and always wanted to be on the go. When you observe what challenges you on the mat, there’s often a correlation to something that feels strained or challenged in everyday life. For me, learning relaxation techniques, making this pose an important part of my practice, and finally being able to find stillness in my mind have all tremendously benefited me, both in and out of the yoga studio. For example, I sleep much better now that I know how to quiet my mind and relax my body.
Take the time to observe and study your practice, what challenges you, and how you can learn from that. Let this final pose be an important part of your practice — where full exertion is coupled with full relaxation. You work so hard in everyday life, take the opportunity to work easy — it is hard-earned and well-deserved.