Considering many yoga practitioners can twist their arms around one another in eagle pose (Garudasana), balance on one foot while standing in tree pose (Vrikshasana) and bend their back to its fullest extent while in wheel pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana), it may seem odd that many struggle with a pose that isn't physically complicated: corpse pose (Savasana).
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While corpse pose may look easy — after all, you're just lying on your yoga mat — it's actually one of the most difficult, especially if you're new to the practice.
But it can be hard to lie down on your mat, close your eyes and not think about anything else outside of the present moment for five minutes. After all, as humans with multiple titles — mom, dad, boss, marathoner, you name it — we're constantly thinking about our to-do lists throughout the day. So, it's quite complicated for us to stop the gears in our mind from churning and letting go of the idea that everything important is happening solely while in motion.
While the physical aspect of yoga requires a certain amount of focus, which oddly enough makes it easier to do, corpse pose — which helps you enter into the mental part of yoga, also known as meditation — requires just as much attention (if not more) because it's hard to relax.
When you first begin practicing corpse pose in yoga, you may notice your body feels tense and it may even feel awkward to close your eyes, so you stare at the ceiling. Additionally, after completing the physical portion of yoga class, you may feel hot or anxious and ready to go and complete your next task of the day.
All of these feelings are natural to experience, but they can serve as temporary distractions that can cause you to miss out on experiencing the true essence of corpse pose. When you bask in corpse pose, you're learning how to quiet your mind and release your thoughts, all while remaining in the present moment.
So, how can you remain aware and conscious of your surroundings while being at ease? Through my years of practicing, learning and teaching yoga, I've gathered a few tips that have helped me move past the mental discomfort of relaxing in the present moment and enter a state of non-judgement and compassion for myself and my surroundings.
Applying these tips while practicing corpse pose for at least five minutes a day can help you achieve a sense of calmness, peace and rejuvenation in your mind and body, and it's quite rewarding when you finally do so.
1. Don't Be Afraid to Take Up Space
One thing I always tell my students during final rest pose is to take up as much space as they would like. Spread your arms wide across your mat as though you're getting ready to hug a good friend you haven't seen in a long time.
Additionally, I try to encourage my students to get comfortable with taking up as much space as possible with posing the question, "Where else can you take up more space?" Being authentic with how you feel in the moment and trusting yourself to take what you need can help you relax into the pose.
2. Focus on Your Breath
Without letting your mind wander and with your eyes closed, concentrate on your breath by slowly taking a few deep inhales and exhales through the nose before gradually returning to your normal breathing. Doing this will help you reach a deep state of conscious relaxation while in corpse pose.
3. Perform a Full-Body Scan
After completing a vigorous yoga session, it's likely you may have some tension built up in some parts of your body. Quickly scan your body, noticing any areas that feel particularly tight, and bring gentle movement to that particular area as a way of asking that part of your body to relax.
Additionally, it helps to relax the muscles in your head, such as your tongue and jaw, by letting your tongue fall away from the roof of your mouth and allowing your jaw to open slightly to release any unknown tension that we sometimes hold in that area.
4. Release Your Thoughts
It's natural for thoughts to randomly pop into your mind while in corpse pose, so when you notice you're thinking about something, acknowledge the thought and release it by returning the focus back to your breath.
5. Use Props
For many yoga practitioners, it's beneficial to use props — whether that's due to an injury or because it's what feels comfortable. Feeling relaxed and not in pain can help you focus on easing your mind during corpse pose.
You can place a rolled-up blanket or yoga cushion underneath your knees to help relax your lower back, or you can take those same props and place them under your neck and head to raise your forehead slightly higher than your chin to offer neck support.
Covering your eyes helps block out the light, which also makes it easier to relax and focus on your breath — not your wandering mind. I like to use a chilled towel scented with lavender, but a sleep mask, towel, blanket or even a spare shirt work, too.