We live in a time that is inherently stressful to our nervous systems. A frenetic blend of social media, access to infinite amounts of information and the constant sounds of our vehicles and devices compete for precious space in our mindscape. We now also experience the anxiety-provoking uncertainty precipitated by the incidence of natural disasters and disruptive weather patterns that is increasing due to global climate change. These two present-day realities mean that we spend the majority of our waking hours in the “fight or flight” mode of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The autonomic nervous system is composed of the SNS and the parasympathetic (PNS) branches, and when it is functioning optimally they are both engaged regularly without one predominating. Stressors trigger the SNS and its over use has negative health consequences as it requires higher metabolic rates, activates the cardiovascular system and can lead to hypertension and over reactivity.
This is our reality, and whether we like it or not we are here now and need to cope. Managing the effects of these stressors that did not exist 50 years ago is key to our health, happiness and wellbeing. The practice of yoga offers ancient wisdom for modern times through a diverse variety of movement practices, philosophy and breath-work. While yoga classes these days may range from heated to restorative, and may or may not include baby goats or beer, one thing you will (almost) always encounter in a yoga practice is savasana.
You never know what will happen in savasana; potentially the mind will run wild with to-do lists and the body will struggle to find comfort, potentially you will fall fast asleep, or potentially you will relax into a state of consciousness that can feel transcendent. If you practice yoga for long enough all of these will happen at some point. To demystify the corpse pose it is important to recognize that savasana is basically lying down on the ground. Anyone can do it, there is nothing strange about it, it is simply resting your body on the earth.
The magic of savasana is that you are giving your body and mind permission to rest. Most of us really appreciate when a teacher supports us in holding this space because our cultural conditioning inhibits our ability to do it on our own. That’s why I’d like to offer you two savasana practices here. Access them anytime and share them widely with your friends, family and colleagues. Just imagine, instead of a coffee break at work taking a collective savasana break! Why not try it and see what it does for your wellbeing, clarity of mind, productivity and sense of community in the workplace?!
I find the efficacy of using savasana to soothe my nervous system is greatly enhanced by practicing outdoors directly on the Earth. I began to explore this after reading Warren Grossman’s book To Be Healed by the Earth,where he states;
The frequency of the Earth’s energy is the most healing of all frequencies. Sit, stand or lie upon the Earth each time you have a headache, indigestion, anxiety or tension…Each time, pay attention to the pressure of the uncomfortable part of your body as it rests against the Earth: feet, back or buttocks. By doing this, your much smaller energy begins to resonate with the Earth’s very large energy, imitating its health.
Studies show that touching the Earth normalizes both cortisol secretion, a hallmark of stress activity in the body, and melatonin secretion, which is crucial for a good night’s sleep. Furthermore spending time in direct contact with the Earth can increase the saturation of negative electrons in your body’s tissues helping to protect against free radicals that cause chronic inflammation. Contact with the Earth’s electrical charge also increases the negative charge around your blood cells, which means they repel each other more effectively and can flow more freely.
In order to receive the most benefit from savasana and connecting to the Earth we must learn to pay attention to our experience. Paying attention allows the mind to focus and the nervous system to shift towards the PNS branch. Dr. Grossman reminds us; Attention is the principle means for accessing healing from nature. It functions as the interface or connector between nature’s energies and a person’s need.
The proof is in the practice! Set aside 15-30 minutes and try one of the guided savasanas. If it’s available to you, try this outside right on the Earth. I’d love to know how it goes for you…please leave a comment at the bottom of the page!