Savasana, corpse pose, “the most important asana”. We’ve all heard a teacher say this. One skeptical NYC eye brow lifts. It’s our final posture, our resting posture. How could this possibly be the most important? More so than all our Chaturangas, Warriors, and Upward Facing Dogs (Urdhva Mukha Svanasanas)?
Quite possibly so yogis, quite possibly so.
We’ve just sweated out all our turmeric, green juice, and emotions. We've sustained through a 60, 75, maybe a 90 minute class! We’re lying supine on the floor and we should accept this takes top significance in our practice … Why?
And while we are curiously questioning, let’s also answer — why palms up or down? Why the need to exit Savanasana so carefully? And why do we so commonly roll to the right before sitting up?
Biology 101: Your Automatic Nervous System (ANS). It controls all your involuntary responses — heartbeat, blood vessel constriction, respiration, and much more. There are two divisions of the ANS, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS). These two systems are the swing in which your life oscillates — only one can operate at time and they work together to maintain homeostasis. When you are stressed, your SNS is working overtime, your “fight or flight” response in constant action; yoga and exercise stimulates your SNS in a positive way, elevating your heart rate, moving lymphatic fluid around, and improving circulation, thus enhancing your mood and mental clarity.
Savasana, in turn, activates your PNS, the rest and relaxation center of your nervous system. Before settling into Savasana, take one deep breath to stimulate your PNS, then let go. Uncoil and free your mind. Taking Savasana daily, even for just 10 minutes, can improve your quality of life and overall well-being. Your body is constantly striving to maintain homeostasis; Savasana (and any meditation) is a method that can assist your ANS with that delicate balance it works to maintain.
Palms Up or Down?
If you would like to receive, place your palms up. Open your hands, your heart, your mind. Feel the universe and the energies surrounding you. No wonder this is the most common placement after practice, after you have just emptied yourself onto your mat.
However, if you have more to give, place your palms down. Send your energy into the earth or perhaps gift it to someone near or far.
“Start wiggling your fingers and toes … take a nice, long, gentle stretch …” Why can’t we just sit upright? Why are we cued gradually back from Savasana? Because we were just in a deep meditative state; we don’t want to shock the body by jumping up quickly, electrifying the SNS. We want to awaken the nervous system delicately, slowly stimulating the muscles back to life, allowing the gifts from the PNS to to linger and carry over into the next part of our day.
Roll Right or Left:
There are many reasons to roll right, which is probably why it is the most common reason to do so. Your heart is located on the left; rolling right places the heart above other organs, lifting and energizing it. Interestingly, in India, it is common to enter a holy place with your right foot and in many parts of the world we shake with the right hand. So while these could be the reasons, there are even deeper, more symbolic ones as well.
The body contains three main channels of energy — the Sushumna, running down the center of the spine, the Ida Nadi, running along the left side, and the Pingala Nadi, running along the right side.
The Ida Nadi is responsible for your feminine energy, your cooling, calming, yin, lunar energy. The Pingala Nadi is responsible for your masculine energy, your warming, energizing, yang, solar energy.
In Savasana, when we roll right, we place our left nostril on top so we can participate in left nostril breathing for our final resting breaths. We evoke our yin energy, taking additional calming feelings with us as we rise to a seated position.
Want to feel more energized as you lift to your seated position? Roll left. Evoke your yang energy. Take in a few breaths with your right nostril on top and awaken more of that masculine energy.
So next time your teacher tells you how important Savasana is, you can mentally agree, then slide in knowing you are providing your body (and mind) with an important relaxation and healing technique. Simply surrender to your breath and the peace surrounding you in the safe space of wherever you are practicing.
Written By: Pamela Lyn