Yoga Relaxation, Shavasana Or The Corpse Pose

By: Chaker Saaf

Activity is the law of life and it is carried out at the expenditure of energy produced by a certain amount of wear and tear of all the organs of the body, and particularly at the expense of the voluntary muscles. During waking hours we perform all sorts of co-ordinated movements which are dependent on the contraction and relaxation of opposing sets of muscles and thus a certain amount of recuperative time is given to the muscles which are relaxed. If the contraction of a muscle is prolonged too long or carried out more frequently than a muscle is accustomed to, we feel a sensation of fatigue which is due to the accumulation of waste products of contraction. In the relaxed position of a muscle the circulation of the blood is not obstructed.

The constant supply of blood energizes the muscle by giving up its oxygen to it and in exchange carries away the products of metabolism, or renders them inert. The chief advantage of relaxation is that it gives in a minimum time a maximum amount of renewed strength. Sleep is a great energizer as all the voluntary muscles are then at rest and recuperative processes go on unconsciously. During sleep, the subconscious mind, not being under the control of consciousness, wanders away from the body. If we could obtain the same relaxation which we get in sleep by resting at will, the sub-conscious may be made to remain in the body and vitalize and control the activity of all the involuntary organs in the body.

This conscious rest can be obtained by practicing Shavasana or the corpse pose.

Technique: Lie supine, i.e., flat on the back with the hands and legs fully extended. Keep the feet apart by about nine inches with the toes directed outwards. This position helps to relax the muscles of the lower extremities. Keep the hands close to the body with the palms pointing upwards and with the fingers slightly flexed. The face should be turned sideways by rotating the head on its own axis. This will help to relax the muscles of the neck. To relax the face muscles let the jaw drop down by keeping the mouth slightly open. Keep the eyes closed and the body quite motionless. The relaxation of the trunk-muscles is dependent on correct breathing. The muscles of the thorax and the abdomen normally begin to relax during expiration and maximum relaxation is reached during the suspensionary period occurring between the respiratory cycles. It is not possible to suspend breathing for a long time. A short inspiratory effort followed by a prolonged expiratory one will maintain the relaxation of the trunk-muscles for a longer time than their contraction in a short inspiratory effort. Even in this relaxed position of the body the muscles still remain alert for any stimulus that they may experience, because the vitality of the muscles in the form of voluntary nerve-force is still present. The next effort should then be directed towards devitalizing the muscles so as to completely relax them in the true sense. To achieve this, the nerves supplying the muscles must be made non-Impressionable to both, the afferent (in-going) and efferent (out-going) stimuli. To begin with, try to devitalize a group of muscles at a time. Devitalizing should be carried out in the following order. First the lower extremities, then the upper extremities, neck, face and lastly the trunk. The thought of devitalizing a particular group of muscles must synchronise with deep inhalation which helps to draw the vitality of the part (Prdna) upwards and this Is made apparent by a sinking feeling in that part. This makes the muscles non-impressionable to afferent impulses. Keep steady the vitality thus withdrawn at a point near the root of the nose by directing the gaze there with the eyes closed, and then slowly exhale.

This prevents the generation of a reflex impulse froih the brain and in the absence of this the devitalized part remains completely relaxed. By this process not only are all the voluntary muscles relaxed, but at the same time that concentration of the mind is achieved which is so highly prized by spiritual culturists for developing further the more advanced and spiritual stages of Yoga. When success in relaxing the muscles of the different parts of the body has been achieved, then an effort should be made to relax the muscles of the whole body at the same time. This is the true aim of Shavasana. With perfect relaxation of all the muscles of the body, the breathing becomes slower and shallower and the body becomes like a corpse. Whether the body is perfectly relaxed or not can be tested by telling some one to lift after a stipulated period either the forearm or a leg to a certain height and then let it go. If the body is in a truly relaxed condition, the limb raised will fall to the ground like a dead-weight. Retain the pose from three to six minutes taking into consideration the fact that in this pose the time seems abnormally long.

This pose, if rightly practiced, is extremely refreshing after any kind of exertion and is so soothing to the nerves that sleep is often induced during its practice. This tendency to go to sleep should be checked very determinately. As a therapeutic measure Shavasana should be practiced to reduce high blood pressure and for the cure of neurasthenia.


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