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Thursday, October 20, 2011
By Karen Kwan
You’ve stretched and twisted your body into numerous positions all yoga class long and finally, it’s time for corpse pose or savasana. And yet this pose (where you’re lying on your mat) is actually considered one of the practice’s most challenging poses – how’s that?
“On a physical level, corpse pose is very challenging especially for North Americans,” says Yumee Chung, a Jivamukti teacher based north of Toronto. “Most of us always have our muscles engaged and ready to spring into action,” she says. For example, our trapezius muscles are often so overrecruited, says Chung. Ironically, here we often think of strong muscles as firm and rippling but effective muscles know how to engage but also how to totally relax.
For another example, think of your hip flexors, says Chung. These muscles are often first to respond in an emergency situation—if you’re in a car accident, you’ll use them to roll your body into a fetal position to protect yourself. “But being in this constant state of fight or flight mode will lead to shortening your muscles and eventually you won’t know how to relax and it’ll affect your breathing,” she says.
Which all ties into why the seemingly easy corpse pose can be so challenging for most people. “I often come across students who can’t close their eyes, or who are constantly readjusting their body or just can’t stop fidgeting,” she says, noting that just being still is a big thing to learn.
Ready to practice this pose? Here’s a breakdown of what you’re aiming to achieve. And try to hold the pose for at least 10 minutes in order for your body to reap the benefits of it.
• Recline on your yoga mat on your back (put a bolster under your knees if you prefer to have your legs slightly bent).
• The central axis of your body should be straight up and down.
• Your nose should be pointing straight up at the sky.
• Your head should be straight, not flopping to one side or another.
• Keep your forehead and chin level to one another.
• Your feet should be about hip distance apart and relaxed (so let them flop out).
• Arms should be 45 degrees away from the body, palms facing upwards. (“This outer rotation is important for opening up your back and neck,” says Chung, adding that it’ll counteract any pain from inner rotation – think of your posture when you’re driving or sitting at your computer).