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Frequently overlooked by Type-A yogis and often neglected, Savasana, the most elusive of asanas, has the potential to give the most rewards to the earnest practitioner. For Restorative Yoga teacher Sally Belmont, Savasana became a salve after her third child was born in 1995 with a sleep disorder.

“My daughter Tara was born with what I eventually found to be called ‘night terrors’, says Sally. “Continuous sleep deprivation wrecked havoc with my body and mind and I was also very stressed trying to figure out why my daughter couldn’t sleep.”

Dr Richard Ferber, a Boston-based doctor who specialised in children’s sleep problems, helped Sally understand what night terrors were. At this time, Sally discovered Judith Hanson Lasater’s Relax and Renew. She integrated Judith’s restorative yoga poses with the aid of props into her practice, based on Sivananda and Kripalu traditions, which helped her manage the disorder and its effects on rejuvenation.

“My ability to gain twenty minutes of deep rest during Savasana gave me the strength I needed to continue looking after Tara and her two, very energetic older brothers on night after night of broken sleep”, says Sally.

The final piece of the puzzle was the ground-breaking work of Dr Herbert Benson of the Harvard Medical School, ‘The Relaxation Response,’ a 30-year study into the physiological effects of deep rest.

Between her established yoga practice, the restorative yoga as taught by Judith Hanson Lasater, the support of Dr Richard Ferber and the work of Dr Herbert Benson, Sally had the strategies to cope with her daughter’s disorder, which resolved when she was six years old.

Rest versus rejuvenation
Many people misunderstand what it means to rest and relax. They flop in front of the television or lie down with a book or magazine in the hope that this will rejuvenate them physically, mentally and emotionally. Yet deep relaxation is not that easy.

Even lying down for Savasana with the intention to relax does not mean relaxation will come, especially for those whose days have been one rush after another. The mind soon interferes with Savasana, bringing tension through stressed thoughts, preventing relaxation. To be free of tension means to be free of all these identities and attachments.

Pervasive stress
According to Judith’s book Relax and Renew, “for our ancestors, a stressful situation usually resolved itself quickly … modern people are often unable to resolve our stress so directly, and we live chronically stressed as a result. Still responding to the fight-or-flight response, the adrenals continue to pump stress hormones. The body does not benefit from nutrition because the digestion and elimination systems are slowed down. Even sleep is disturbed by this agitated state.”

Making time to relax
Judith notes that it takes at least 15 minutes to relax deeply. While many respond exasperatedly that they have no time to do Savasana everyday, we each have the same amount of time each day. If you prioritise better health, you will find time to perform Savasana every day.

Judith advises:

“If you stay in Savasana long enough, you will eventually experience three different stages of the pose. The first is what I call physiological relaxation; it takes most people about 15 minutes. At first, you might feel like the mind is still revved up and attached to thoughts, feelings, and muscular movement. But gradually, the brain waves and the breath slow down, and the blood pressure drops.

As the mind and body unwind, the real Savasana can begin. During this second stage, awareness of the outside world begins to dim. You might hear sounds, but they won’t disturb you. Instead, everything will start to drift farther and farther away.

In my opinion, the second stage is the most healing for the body and comforting to the mind. A high school student once described Savasana to me as, ‘Your body sleeps and your mind watches.”’ I like this description, because the mind never completely quiets down, but as you loosen your identification with the physical body, you can disconnect from the constant whirl of thoughts. Then you can simply witness them, just as you would notice the rising and falling of your chest with the breath. As this happens, you’ll feel more at ease and willing to be where you are.

The final state of Savasana occurs when the mind completely lets go. It is thought that the brain waves slow down to their lowest frequency. You will feel disconnected from the outside world until the timer rings or your teacher’s voice brings you back to the present.”

Real rejuvenation
Savasana is described by B.K.S. Iyengar as “shedding” – “like a snake shedding its skin to emerge glossy and resplendent in its renewed colors.” As a salve to broken sleep and an antidote to stressful times, Savasana continues to reveal its riches to everyone who take the time to discover it.

Further reading
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide for Parents
By Dr Richard Ferber.

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times
By Judith Hanson Lasater, PH.D., PT

The Relaxation Response
By Herbert Benson, M.D.

By Brook McCarthy, Yoga Reach.

Article Written: June 2012