Posted on September 01, 2015
There is a state babies go through in early infancy that pediatricians refer to as ‘quiet alert’. The name describes this adorably still-yet-aware time in the course of a young child’s eating/sleeping/pooping schedule in which their eyes are wide open, their breath steady, and awareness ripe. I remember my kids’ various quiet alert expressions with total glee. It was a distinct pleasure to witness the sweetly silent consciousness of such tiny creatures.
As it turns out, the practice of savasana (Sanskrit for ‘corpse pose’) is in many ways our opportunity as busy, harried adults to revisit the quiet alert stage of babyhood. Yoga Journal elaborates: “The essence of savasana is to relax with attention, that is, to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease.” The idea behind lying in savasana at the end of class is to seal our physical practice with a complete relaxation of the body, mind, and breath. Again, Yoga Journal:
“When you (practice savasana) day after day, it conditions the body to release stress and can improve your sense of physical and emotional well-being. But when you have allowed tightness and tension to build up in your body, relaxing—even when you lie down—feels impossible. That’s why it’s important to practice the other, active asanas before attempting Savasana because they stretch, open, and release tension in the muscles. They also help relax the diaphragm, so the breath can move freely.”
So what of falling asleep? For one, nodding off is a sign of complete relaxation, so that’s good…right? Sort of. The true goal is to cultivate a practice – albeit lying down with the eyes closed – of attaining a conscious state of relaxation. You may hear your teachers conjure terms like ‘release’ and ‘surrender’ at savasana time because the hope is that you learn how to embody these actions – with your mind, body, and breath – consciously, as opposed to unconsciously (i.e. sleep). If along the way, you take a few naps while perfecting the art, we promise not to tell.
For more practice tips on Savasana, check out Yoga Journal’s November 2013 article, The Subtle Struggle of Savasana.