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Shavasana is a term used in Hatha Yoga, which means lying like a corpse.
In modern medicine, it is called mind-body relaxation. In terms of psychiatry, it is called progressive muscular relaxation. Mahavira called it as Kayotsarga in his teachings.
Kayotsarga does not mean only lying like a corpse but also abandonment of the body. It is a state of restful alertness where the mind is alert, but the body is at rest. All meditative practices begin with Kayotsarga. It is the very foundation of spiritual sadhana.
In terms of physiology, it increases alpha rays in the brain and in the language of neurology, it creates a parasympathetic state of the body.
The process involves lying still and being aware of each part of the body getting relaxed gradually and in turn. Awareness or the concentration is on the body being relaxed and the process of relaxation. In yogic language, it is also called as yoga nidra as before completing the process most people fall asleep. This is one procedure, which is often used by counselors in patients with insomnia.
During the process of Kayotsarga, one is neither in the past nor in the future as one’s awareness is in the present on the process of relaxation. Being in present it detaches one from the attachments and desires and prepares one for the next phase called meditation.
One of the principles of mind-body relaxation is that during a state of relaxation and restful alertness the mind become suggestive. This principle is also used in hypnosis. In fact, the initial trans-state is based on this principle.
Kayotsarga is the state of the body required to win over any pain and that is one reason why during any painful procedure the person is often asked to relax and give way. In the process of Kayotsarga, as the body is in deep state of relaxation, all physical and mental sufferings are relieved. With relaxation of the body most pain would disappear.
There are several studies, which say that Yogic Shavasana or Kayotsarga can reduce blood pressure by 20/10 mmHg.
Slower and deeper breathing is another way of achieving the same benefits as that of Kayotsarga; both balance the prana. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali involve both before going into meditation. If one practices Kayotsarga, breathing automatically slows down. Kayotsarga is often done in the beginning of Dhyana and at the point of culmination of Dhyana.
Kayotsarga is a state of making body completely free of motion and tension. The fundamental principle of Kayotsarga is slower and deeper breathing. Unless the breathing is slow, it is not possible to relax the body. One cannot do Kayotsarga successfully if the breathing is fast.
It is also combined with many visualization techniques. Once the full body is relaxed concentrating on a mantra or on a portion of the body may help in healing. Dean Ornish in his book “Reversing Heart Disease” also used this technique with focus on the heart and showed that even heart diseases are regressible. Many people use this for relieving migraine.
Kayotsarga distinguishes the body from the soul. And, the first stage of meditation is the detached feeling of the body.
The afternoon nap is like a Kayotsarga. The best way to rest for a heart patient is to practice Kayotsarga. During the process of Kayotsarga, immunity develops, and the prana becomes balanced.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
President Confederation of Medical Associations in Asia and Oceania (CMAAO)
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Past National President IMA