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Shavasana or corpse-like posture is a term used in Hatha Yoga. In mind body language, it is called mind body relaxation. In terms of psychiatry, it is called progressive muscular relaxation. Mahavira in his teachings called it as Kayotsarga or a total relaxation of mind, body and speech with self-awareness. Kaya means ‘body’ and Utsarg means ‘to drop’.
Kayotsarga does not only mean lying like 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 or relaxed. All meditative practices begin with Kayotsarga. It is the very foundation of spiritual sadhana.In terms of physiology, kayotsarga 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 and every 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, this 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. As Swami Satyananda Saraswati (Preface to “Yoga Nidra”, 1982, Bihar School of Yoga, Monghyr, Bihar, India) says: “When awareness is separate and distinct from vrittis - mental modifications, when waking, dreaming and deep sleep pass like clouds, yet awareness of Atman remains, that is the experience of total relaxation. That is why, in Tantra, Yoga Nidra is said to be the doorway to samadhi!”
During the process of Kayotsarga, one is neither in the past nor in the future. Awareness is in the present and hence, it detaches one from attachments and desires and prepares one for the next phase called meditation.
One of the mind body principles 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 this is one reason why during any painful procedure the person is often asked to relax and give way. All physical and mental sufferings are relieved as the body is in a deep state of relaxation. 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. The 10-day Vipassana meditation is also based on prolonged Kayotsarga. Slower and deeper breathing is another way of achieving the same benefits as that of Kayotsarga. Both balance 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 particular portion of the body may help in healing. Dean Ornish in his book ‘Reversing Heart Disease’ also used this technique with focus on heart and showed that even heart diseases are regressible. Many people use this for relieving migraine.Kayotsarga is the process which distinguishes the body from the soul. The detached feeling of the body is what the first stage of meditation is. Afternoon nap is nothing but Kayotsarga. The best way to rest for a heart patient is to practice Kayotsarga. During the process of Kayotsarga, the immunity develops and the prana becomes balanced.
Dr KK Aggarwal
Padma Shri Awardee
Vice President CMAAO
Group Editor-in-Chief IJCP Publications
President Heart Care Foundation of India
Immediate Past National President IMA