Shava – is dead body and dead mind. It means that it is not moved, it is completely quiet. The principle of Shavasana is, that when we lay the physical body in harmony, without any conflictual body posture, we are able to penetrate in it and free it. Therefore we become “dead” during that time. It is the most hard to do. In fact it symbolises the whole of the Yoga practice. This is the ultimate posture that there is – Shava – to be dead. When you are dead like this, not moving, it is then that you realise who you really are.
The art of lying down in the Shavasana is to eradicate all conflicts in the body. When after a while your body starts to say, “I am uncomfortable”, the intention of Shavasana is at least to put away all conflicts and to learn more about your body if conflict arises. Then there are many means to erase them and so the technique to lay down in Shavasana consists of few key steps.
Due to our bad habits of living, the lower back is typically curved to much either forward or backward. If you’ve lived in a sofa your pelvis will tilt. If you have worn high hills for a long time, your spine will be very curved. And a lot of time we don’t even have a choice – we get it from the genes. A way to lessen the curve in the lower back is by making the tail bone to extend downwards. When the tail bone has extended, with the bent legs, I have lengthened my spine and that curve is smaller. Keeping the least curve possible will stop your back from getting tight. Even more important is that this whole area, when curved, is actually tensed. By making the tail bone to go downward, we free the whole lower part – which is the pelvic area, and the area above – the lumbar spine.
When I lay down I stretch my legs allowing them to slide down. Automatically, when I relax my feet go to the sides. I let them go to the side, then I raise my head up and check if they are in equal distance from the centre of the body. When I stretch the legs at that time I make sure that my toes move towards me. The heel is dependent on this movement, it is stretching and contracting the inner part of the legs. Thus when I pull my toes towards me, I extend the inner legs and then relax. Lastly I look up and check if I am centred.
By making these two adjustments, conflicts in this part of the body are eradicated. Firstly the movement in the back, which diminishes the curve and secondly the right placement of the legs, which influences the muscles and the hip joint.
Third thing we do is related to the upper body, but when done wrongly, it can destroy what we have done in the first two adjustments. When the shoulders are tilted up the space of the upper chest is being lost and the rib cage is not in its right place. By pressing the elbows down I rotate the shoulders and make my shoulder blades to become flat. But it is a subtle movement as trying to flatten the shoulder blades by making an extreme movement – lifting the whole back – would nullify the previous adjustments of the lower back and the legs. Then I would have to start all over again.
Then there come adjustments of the neck and the head. When the head is moving backwards, without a blanket placed underneath, I am in the future and the thoughts process is in its full power. I cannot quieten the mind in a state like this, so I have to use the height under the head. I need to use it properly, so I lift my head up and pull the blanket in so it is touching the muscles joining the neck with the shoulders. Then I move the chin down and extend the back part of the neck. Whenever I perform that movement I rest on the blanket this little flat area on the skull where the spine finishes. The only problem is when this part of the skull is crooked, and a lot of the time children who were pulled by the head in the birth have that place a bit uneven. So that are the adjustments of the head which pacify all this area – chin moving down towards the chest, elongating the back part of the neck and having that flat part of the head resting on the blanket.
If I put my arms to much downwards, they will cause imbalance in the shoulders coming forward. As I experimented and observed my body and my breath, I came to the conclusion that there is a blockage in the chest area. So I move my arms higher, elongate them with the palms facing up, and then feel that the breath goes everywhere in the chest.
When staying long time in the Shavasana, the back starts to tighten, because of the legs rolling out to the sides. There are two solutions to get rid of that effect – either putting a bolster under the knees or, if it doesn’t work, putting the legs on the chair and supporting the calves.
Last thing to mention is that contact lenses and glasses should be put away during the relaxations and inversions, because the eyes have to breathe.
In order to go out of the pose you bend your legs and turn over to the right side.
Yoga master teacher Sharat Arora
Article derived from the Intensive Yoga Course
at the Himalayan Iyengar Yoga Centre in Arambol North Goa, 2010