Savasana is often considered the most challenging pose. It is because the body has the goal of relaxing completely. It can be especially difficult during the beginning of class when we are just beginning to connect to our bodies and breath. Using tension and release during the initial savasana of a class is found to be an incredibly effective way to relax into savasana and let go of whatever tension the body is holding unconsciously. I learned this practice in my Sivananda yoga teacher training. It is a practice I will never discount from any classes I teach. The benefits are well worth it, although it does take some extra time during the initial stage of the class.
This practice is very similar to strategies that are taught in psychotherapy. Progressive muscle relaxation is a tool taught to individuals struggling with anxiety and depression to release tensions held by the body. The goal is to allow the body to relax. Using tension and release in Savasana is essentially the same practice, with the added intention of preparing the body for an asana series and allowing the student to tune into any tension in the body.
When I teach my classes, I bring my students into Savasana. Students are often comfortable if they are wearing loose-fitting yoga pants and yoga shirts or black cotton leggings. Cotton material is great for comfort and breathability when the student is not sweating. The first step is to bring awareness to the breath by simply observing it. Students are then guided to deepen their breath into big exaggerated inhalations and deep complete exhalations.
It is when we begin to tense and release. I guide my students through first inhaling deeply and tensing their feet and hands by making fists with their hands and scrunching their toes. Both hands and feet are lifted slightly off the mat. As they exhale, they are guided to drop and release their hands and feet while intentionally letting go of all the tension they previously held. While inhaling, next they lift their hips slightly off the mat while tensing their hips and legs. As they exhale, they drop their hips back down into the mat, allowing them to sink in. As they inhale next, they leave their head on the mat but push up their chest towards the sky while bringing their shoulder blades slightly behind them and tensing them together. As they exhale, they drop the shoulders back down and gently allow their head to roll from side to side, releasing any tension there. Next, they bring their shoulders up to their ears and tense their neck and shoulders while inhaling deeply. They exhale and relax their shoulders and neck. Lastly, they inhale while tensing their face and bring their facial muscles as tight into the center of their face as possible. They exhale and allow their face to relax completely. Students can now be guided to inhale and tense their whole bod while lifting arms and legs. As they exhale, they are instructed to let their whole body completely relax.
This strategy works very well and is a great way to prepare the body for asana practice. It can also be used to start your day or end in a relaxed body!