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Shavasana and the many gains from posing dead

Shavasana and the many gains from posing dead

Research supports what yoga and medical practitioners say – that the practice of shavasana or the corpse posture is good for a healthy living.
An old man doing the Shavasana yoga pose
Representational Image | Shutterstock

“I feel like I have no connection with the external world when I do shavasana,” says yoga instructor Bhawani Sharma, 26, of Nagaur, Rajasthan. Sharma has been practising yoga for a decade now. He finds shavasana a very relaxing posture.  He also says his body feels light and refreshed after performing shavasana. 

The pose is considered to be difficult to perform as it requires attention. And the art of relaxation is not what it may look like. Read on to know why. 

Understanding the posture 

Shavasana, meaning corpse posture, comes from the Sanskrit words shava or corpse, and asana, meaning pose “The idea of performing shavasana is to live up to the meaning of the posture,” says Bengaluru-based yogacharya and life coach Krishna Prakash. 

Regarded as one of the toughest forms of yoga, shavasana, he elaborates, “requires a person to lie still like a corpse unless there is some external disturbance.” 

As Sharath Basavaraju, founder of ArthYog Living Yoga Academy, Bengaluru, explains further, “In this posture, you pretend to be a dead body, completely still and motionless.” 

In this posture, one needs to lie down, breathe slowly and gently; and the body relaxes consciously.  

How to perform it 

  • Choose a calm and noise-free environment to perform shavasana 
  • Lie flat on your back and close your eyes.  
  • Keep the legs with feet facing the sides; arms relaxed at around 45 degrees from the flanks and palms facing upwards.  
  • Take slow, deep breaths through the nostrils.  
  • Focus on breathing and pay attention to each body part.  
  • Now, consciously feel and relax each part while breathing slowly and deeply.  
  • Stay in this posture for 10-12 minutes.  When you feel relaxed, open your eyes slowly and release the pose.  

Basavaraju says that shavasana is the most important posture that must be practised either towards the end or during the interval of yoga practices to relax the body.  

Agreeing with this, Prakash also states that when someone practices this pose for 12 minutes, it makes Shavasana a mudra (gesture). 

What happens during the asana   

To explain the benefits of this asana, Prakash likens it to curdling of milk. When the milk ferments into curd, the container turns warm. Similarly, shavasana gives the body warmth.  

Relaxation at all levels 

“It is considered a restorative pose,” adds Basavaraju. It provides intense rest to the body from head to toe.  

A small scale study in 2021 by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Bathinda, discussed the immediate effect of the corpse pose and the crocodile pose (makarasana). The researchers found significant changes in the body’s oxygen saturation and heart rate.  

Another study was carried out back in 2015 by Dr Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani and his team from the Centre for Yoga Therapy, Education and Research, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute (MGMCRI), Puducherry, concluded preliminary evidence of changes in blood pressure levels too.  

Shavasana has been found to improve parasympathetic or stress response activity, thereby restoring the body’s physiology and preventing over exhaustion.   

A 2018 study used shavasana as a relaxation technique to reverse the effects of overnight sleep deprivation and perceived stress in 35 healthcare professionals aged between 20 and 25 years.   

The participants were recruited from the emergency wing of MGMCRI and were taught shavasana.  

The researchers concluded that the pose reduces the `allostatic load’ or the effect of stress on the body and restores the body’s homeostasis – a self-regulating process to maintain stability.   

In a study related to its multiple sclerosis case series, the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bengaluru, used shavasana as a relaxation technique in everyday yoga practice.   

Its case series provided evidence that yoga may reduce symptoms of inflammation, pain and stiffness, and improve the quality of life in the participants.  

Reduces effects of stress   

A study’s finding suggested that shavasana can reduce the physiological effects of stress. The study recommends practising shavasana for 10 minutes a day for  four weeks to notice significant changes.   

Post-stroke anxiety 

People who have suffered a stroke experience an emotional upheaval and agitation due to resultant disabilities. A study used shavasana as an adjuvant with Jacobson’s relaxation technique for 30 minutes a day for two weeks.   

Jacobson’s technique is a specific relaxation therapy that involves tightening and relaxing of muscles groups in a sequence.    

The study found that this technique followed by shavasana was more effective in reducing anxiety than using the therapy alone in post-stroke conditions.  

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