imagesIyengar has called Shavasana*,  the final relaxation pose, one of the most difficult. Why is it difficult? As serious yoga practitioners we strive to eventually be able to live outside time–inside time’s heart but disconnected from the past and the future: in other words, to be always in the present. Shavasana is training for this triumph.**

To do shavasana is to cut the threads that connect us to the concept of “I.”  We become present but formless.

My yoga instructor, Dassa Oppenheimer studied with Iyengar in the 70s when his class size was no more than a dozen. She got a lot of direct, personal instruction that she passes on to us and stories, too. For instance she told us: “In class, Guruji liked to sit on my abdomen when I was in Urdhva Dhanurasana (the wheel, upward bow pose). ‘Look,’ he would say. ‘Oh, she’s a strong one’.”

I suppose that story let us know that despite her small size and elegance, she’s tough. Not that we hadn’t realized that already. We have been studying with her for decades. Her instruction possesses the sturdy, relentless drive of a master teacher who both cares for her students deeply but who also has little tolerance for lapses of attention to detail.

“No,no, no,” she says when we are about to stop sweating and are ready to close our eyes in a welcome, final relaxation.“How many times do I have to tell you!”  She knocks our legs an inch further apart or a bit closer together.

According to Dassa, an improper shavasana never permits you to let go of your body, which is a necessary step in letting go of your thoughts and therefore entering timelessness.


1. From sitting to lying. Place yourself on the mat in dandasana, heels at the bottom of the mat. Align your body. Be in the center of the mat and your body. On your sit bones. Your hip bones parallel. Have a folded blanket ready at the head of your mat (or a prop that will lift your head & neck only as much as to be on the same plane as your spine, not higher.)

Going down from dandasana to shavasana is one of the few times in yoga that you are permitted to collapse your torso. Roll down from sitting, vertebrae by vertebrae, to a flat-on-your-back position.

2. Placing head prop Place the head/neck prop in position so that your head is slightly lifted and neck is elongated. The prop– a folded blanket or other head lift–starts at your shoulder but does not touch the shoulder. The prop lengthens the neck away from the body. (Again: Do not prop your head up higher than your spine unless you have a cold or your instructor tells you otherwise.) Head adjustments will come later.

3. Flattening the sacrum. This part is very important: Your entire sacrum needs to be flat on the mat. To demonstrate how to do this, Dassa slightly lifts and tilts her pelvis (like you have to do when zipping into a pair of really tight jeans) and with her hands pulls her hips down and away from her waist. Sometimes she bends her knees and places her feet on the mat under her hips to make this adjustment; sometime she pulls her hips when her legs are straight.)

4. Finding tadasana If you bent your knees to pull your sacrum flat, now extend your legs, keeping them straight, together, and engaged. Center of the back heels pressing into the mat; toes face up. Arms by your side. Now it’s as if you are in Tadasana but instead of standing you are on your back. Your spine is lengthened along the mat and as much as the spine as possible is flat on the mat. The back ribs touch the mat as well.

Adjust your shoulders to flatten the scapula. Roll the shoulders back, or actually reach up to your shoulders with your hands to help roll the shoulders back. As a teacher, Dassa sometimes helps us make this adjustment by pulling our shirts out of our armpits. Relax the shoulders, lengthen the neck.

5. Positioning the legs. Start with the right leg. Like in ballet when you go into first or second position, rotate the leg outward from the hip socket, turning the knee to the side in the process and letting the feel fall to the side. Do not begin the movement at the foot or just flop the feet to the sides–this is the wrong movement and a mistake that most people make when positioning the leg for final relaxation. If you do it wrong you will never lose sense of time and self.

6. Releasing the groins. Because your legs are still together and you have turned the legs from the hip socket, you will feel tension in your groins. You want to relieve the tension by moving your feet apart–inch by inch. First move your right foot an inch or so to the right, then your left foot an inch or so to the left. Continue the moving away from the center axis inch-by-inch until you find the perfect spot: your groins relax. Usually the distance is not as wide apart as you think it will be. Plus, every time you do shavasana the distance may be different. ( Distance depends on the asana you practiced that day.)

Okay: your sacrum, shoulders,spine and legs are placed properly.

7. Moving the arms. No part of the arm touches the torso. Keeping the upper back flat, rotate the arm outwards from the shoulder socket so that the elbow crack is turning towards the ceiling. (Towards the ceiling but not pointing directly at the ceiling or there is too much rotation) Inch the arms away from the torso. Palms turn upward towards the ceiling. To adjust the arms for correctness, press down the back of the hand and then press down the middle finger to properly turn the wrist and assure the middle wrist bone is on the floor.

8. Preparing the head. Do not close your eyes until head is positioned. Press center of back skull against the mat. Tip of nose points at ceiling. No one has a flat back head. There are bumps and protrusions that make it difficult to find center so, with the help of your instructor, you will have to learn where center is for you. For a while Dassa propped blocks against the right side of my head to keep it from falling in that direction during shavasana.)

Dassa says if the chin is lifted in shavasana, it is a sign that the student’s mind is racing, running, thinking. You can never relax if the chin is too high. “ If the chin is low, “ she said, “it is a sign of brooding, perhaps depression.”

9. Checking balance. Divide your body in half: center of the forehead, center of the chin, center of the sternum, belly-button, perineum. If you had drawn a line down the center of your mat, your body’s feet should be equidistance from the center line, your spine lies directly on that center line, your shoulders are equally divided on the line, as is your face.

Scan your body and make slight adjustments so that there is not more weight on your right buttock than left buttock, right shoulder than left shoulder, right elbow than left elbow, right calf than left calf, etc. spine. Check your chin position has not moved. Release tension by moving attention to the back of the body, making the back body heavy.

10. Closing the eyes. You’ve scanned your body and made adjustments. You’ve located tense spots and let go of the tension. Your body is divided in half. Now you can close your eyes. Upper eyelid softly touches the lower eyelid. Eyeball pupils roll down. Outer edges of the eye title very slightly upwards. Corner of the mouth drop down towards the chin. The skin on the face moves from the center line towards the side of the face.

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Registered :: Wed Oct 07 02:55:12 UTC 2009
Title :: How to Do a Proper Shavasana (Corpse pose)- 10 STEPS

* Sanskrit: शवासन, śavāsana, “Corpse Pose”, alternately spelled Shavasana or Sarvasana

** Iyengar, B. S. K., Light on Life:The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom, Rodale Press, 2005. pp 232-37.


10 STEPS FOR PRATYAHARA (‘withdrawal of the senses’ )

What Dassa taught us to do after closing our eyes in shavasana to enhance sense withdrawal, to journey inwards and cut away attention to sensations outside the body.