“Don’t stress too much, stay calm!” –  Haven’t you heard this phrase? I got tired of listening to this from various sources be it a doctor or a well-wisher or sometimes even a friend. I could never decode how not to be stressed when something goes wrong or when you are running on tight deadlines and so on. The concept of “Stress” has been in the limelight and as a clinical psychologist, I can recommend you to try the corpse pose to calm your mind and body. Continue to read to find out why it is important to turn to your right side while coming out of this posture.

While most of the Yoga asanas are meant to bring in mental as well as physical relaxation, Shava-asana or the Corpse Pose can be called the best of the lot. When broken down in Sanskrit words it means Corpse Pose and is also referred to as Mrtaasana retaining the essence of staying still as dead and allowing the body and soul to relax. 

Relax, Release, and Let Go!

It is often believed that the Corpse Pose is the easiest and needs little to no effort in mastering it. I would like to break that misconception as I found it hard to practice and found that many Yoga practitioners also felt the same way when they initially started practicing it. Shavasana is usually referred to as a form of meditation that is done after Yoga, exercise, or right before sleep. In a particular study that was conducted in the year 2009, a comparison was drawn between the effect of Cyclic Meditation (cyclic alterations of stimulating and relaxing the body parts) and an equal duration of Shavasana. Both of these are relaxation techniques and were assessed to study the effect and impact on a state of anxiety and performance in memory tasks. The results suggested that movement as a part of Cyclic Meditation enables performance in attention and memory tasks more than an equal duration of time in the Corpse Pose. However, conducting this study on participants residing at the Yoga Centre is considered a major drawback.

Follow these steps to get in the right posture for Shavasana

  1. Wear something comfortable and warm. You might want to drink a cup of hot tea if you like, before that. You cannot relax if you are feeling cold. So, prep yourself to stay warm. Feel 
  2. Spread the mat and lie down on your back. Alternatively, you could even lie on your bed, but it is recommended to lie on a flat surface with a mat or a blanket. Stay disconnected from phones or any other external disturbances. Silence the gadgets and set an alarm with a mild tune to just track your time.
  3. Keep your legs straight and let the feet fall on either side. It is not necessary to hold them stiff with toes facing upwards.
  4. Place your arms alongside your torso, not too close and not too far with your palms facing upwards. Try not to clench your fist and as you might retain the tension in your hands and around your neck. Relax your shoulders and jaw muscles too. 
  5. Keep the face-centered in alignment to the body and don’t let it fall on either side. 
  6. Once you are properly aligned, release any effort or tension in the body. Consciously feel a sense of gratitude towards each body part and feel every inch of your body by maintaining a focus between your eyebrows – the third eye or the mind’s eye. Silently thank each part of your body for helping you function the way you wish to and for carrying all your tension. Trust me, it works!
  7. Stay relaxed with a natural breathing style in this pose for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes, to begin with. Gradually you could extend to even a 20-minute window. 
  8. To release the pose, it is necessary to reawaken your body from stillness. With your eyes still closed try to wiggle your toes and fingers and stretch your legs and hands.
  9. While trying to get up and sit, it is always recommended to roll to your right side first and take support of your left hand to sit up. Rolling to your right side will reduce the pressure on the heart which is on the left side, leaving it open and free for the blood flow after Shavasana. Rub your palms and place them on your eyes and feel the warmth on your face. Now slowly open your eyes to a fresh state.

Modifications and Variations 

Though Shavasana appears like a short nap that one would take to relax the body, it is much more complicated when practiced. It demands you to stay consciously awake while being still and completely relaxed. After a small research, the common challenges faced in mastering this pose are detailed below.

A gush of thoughts!

It is easier to stay silent without talking than to silence your mind inside. A gush of thoughts has always been the biggest challenge for any individual who tries to practice any form of meditation. Especially the ones which are troublesome and uncomfortable. The moment you close your eyes to relax, your mind finds it restrictive and pops up different situations or questions and continues to work even harder. A 2010 study in which an iPhone app collected  responses from 2,250 adults worldwide revealed that almost half of  your thoughts have nothing to do with what’s going on at any given moment. The data also exhibited that people tended to be less happy when their thoughts did not bring with their actions.

The best way to handle this situation is to let your thoughts flow. Never try to restrict your ideas or feelings or thoughts running in your mind. The more you push yourself to avoid thinking the harder it gets, and you might even feel stressed instead of relaxing. Just like an ebbing river, the waves need to strike hard initially to find the calmness deep inside. Just go with the flow, it takes time but it will become better!

Physical Pain

Tuning our physical body to align with the calm state of the mind could be stressful if you have any prior concerns such as lower back pain, spondylitis, disc replacement surgery, etc. I found it hard to lie flat on my back due to lower back pain and was only focusing on the pain I was experiencing rather than achieving a relaxed state of mind. It is recommended to listen to your body and address pain if any while trying to perform the Corpse Pose. Try placing a pillow under your knees, to comfort your back and handle pain. If you are experiencing discomfort in the neck, slightly elevated with the help of a folded towel or a small cushion. Try to cover your eyes with an eye-pad if you find the light around you too harsh. Untie your hair, if you have a ponytail, and keep it open to avoid that prickly sense of a hair accessory while lying flat. 

Note that the smallest of physical discomfort could appear humongous while you try to relax. You might notice certain body parts will start itching, just breathe and repose. Everything is fine, this is your time.  

Sleepiness 

If you are totally relaxed physically and mentally, then you are halfway through mastering the challenging Corpse Pose. But here awaits the biggest challenge, you tend to doze off or start feeling sleepy. The Corpse Pose needs you to stay still and calm but remain consciously awake. Try to variate the breath by increasing and decreasing the pace and stay focused on that pattern to meditate and relax consciously. 

Benefits of Corpse Pose

Even during therapy sessions, I usually can perceive how difficult it is for my patients to calm down. This Asana can be a solution for a stressed mind. The Corpse Pose brings the body to homeostasis (a balanced state between the physiological and biochemical paths maintaining the stability between the physical and emotional levels). It is like rebooting your entire system and making it more productive and capable in this competent world. Let us understand some of the benefits of Corpse Pose.

  • Attaining a balance physically and mentally helps in the regular and harmonious functioning of body organs.
  • Regular practice of the Corpse Pose tends to improve the overall immunity of the body.
  • Helps to lower Blood Pressure.
  • Conscious breathing supports better functioning of the lungs.
  • Taking time to let the thoughts flow and to reflect thoughts on your inner self, help you to keep stress and anxiety at bay.
  • Helps you sustain your good mood as it releases the feel-good neurochemicals.
  • Physical alignment always aids in improving the posture over a period.

There are long-term mental health benefits too when you combine your exercise routine with the Corpse Pose as mindful meditation. In 2016, a study was conducted on people with clinical depression, and a massive improvement was noticed in their symptoms when they meditated for 30 minutes before using the treadmill twice a week for eight weeks.

It’s not easy to lie down, relax the breath, and silence the chatter in the mind. But disciplining the mind and body after a demanding activity builds resilience. Over time your results will get better, be patient, and don’t give up.

Srilakshmi and Dr. Rai

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