Playing Dead: Understanding and Mastering Shavasana

Thank you to Maria Rainer for this guest post. A suitably ghoulish title for this Hallowe’en week!

If you’re a yoga devotee, you’re probably intimately familiar with Shavasana (also Savasana, or the corpse pose). You do it at the end of every yoga session, and the rule of thumb is typically five minutes of Shavasana for every 30 you’ve spent practicing other yoga poses. So if you do a 30-minute session of yoga five times a week, that’s at least 25 minutes of Shavasana. When you’re spending so much time in one pose, wouldn’t you like to make sure that it’s as close to perfection as possible? You might think that the corpse pose is pretty self-explanatory, and it is, but to truly perfect this pose, it takes a little bit more than playing dead. Practice, more heightened concentration, and awareness of the pose’s goal can help you experience the incredible benefits of a perfect Shavasana pose. To get started, check out the following suggestions for improving your corpse pose.

Finding the Perfect Position

Going by the name, a corpse pose would have you simply lie on your back as if you were dead. Easy enough, but it’s tougher than it sounds. To begin Shavasana, sit on the floor with your knees bent, feet flat against the floor, and lean back as you use your forearms to guide your torso down to the floor so that you’re flat on your back. Slide one leg straight out, leading with the heel, as you inhale slowly and exhale. Extend the other leg and arch your back slightly. Now, soften your thigh muscles and allow your legs to turn slightly outward into a natural pose that doesn’t require you to hold any muscles taut. Soften your lower back, but don’t allow it to touch the floor. You want to retain a soft, natural curve in your spine. If you’re having trouble with this, use a bolster to find the curve and remove it when you’re confident that you can retain the curve on your own. Once you’re comfortable in this initial position, you’re ready to move on.


Try to keep your body symmetrical with your left and right sides reflecting each other along the mid-line of your torso. To get your head in the game, take hold of it with both hands and gently lift it away from the back of your neck. Keep your ears at equal distances from your shoulders – this will help you stay symmetrical along your mid-line. As you support your head with your hands or a folded blanket, try to release your spine and relax it from the base of your skull down to your tailbone.

Arms and Surface Area

Reach your arms up to the ceiling, perpendicular to the floor, as you rock gently from side to side. The purpose of this is to broaden your back by moving the ribs and shoulder blades away from the spine, giving you the sensation of having more surface area between you and the floor. This will help you feel rock solid as you fully relax your body. Allow your arms to find a natural position at your sides, equally angled away from your mid-line, with the palms facing up. Keep your shoulder blades firmly but gently pressed against the floor, allowing your collarbones to spread open and your chest to expand.

Sense Organs

Your sense organs are always at work, but in Shavasana, it’s important to try to silence them and participate in total relaxation. You can start at the top of your head and work downward, relaxing your eye and facial muscles, your inner ear canals, and nostrils. To become more aware of the stress you’re holding in your nose, try flaring your nostrils and then actively relaxing them. Now, soften the root of your tongue and release the tension in your jaw. If your teeth are gritted at this point, work to soften your jaw muscles and your tongue will naturally relax during this process. Any muscle groups that are still taut should be tensed and deliberately released. Trouble spots can include the shoulders, neck, face, back, and jaw, so make sure that these parts of your body are entirely relaxed.

Breathing and Mental Relaxation

There aren’t any specific breathing tricks to learn for Shavasana. Just observe your breath as if you were outside of your body and become aware of its natural rhythm. Focusing on this simple act of respiration will allow you to relax your mind, releasing any stresses or concerns you might have and eliminating thoughts of what you’ll have to do when you’ve finished your yoga session. Let your breath guide you within the moment of Shavasana and exclude the world as you know it. Detach yourself from your body and watch your thoughts slowly dissipate, enabling you to enter a state of total relaxation. No matter what you do, treat Shavasana as a pose that deserves your full concentration just as much as the toughest handstand. You’ll be rewarded with the perfect ending to your yoga session.

Author Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online programs and blogging about student life issues. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

Photo courtesy of wikipedia

0 thoughts on “Playing Dead: Understanding and Mastering Shavasana”

  1. Nicely done Maria! I am guilty of cutting short or skipping out on Savasana too many times already…It should indeed be treated with the same reverence and attention as any other Asana – thank you for the great reminder!

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