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Several years ago, I was in a training in London when one of my teachers, Kristin Campbell, was asked the best way to practice a particular pose. She answered, quite simply, “The why informs the how.”
It was an aha moment for me. I immediately understood that if I’m clear on why I am practicing a certain pose, then how I go about it shifts. And my teaching becomes much clearer to students, too. I have carried this concept with me ever since.
An example of where this applies in yoga is Savasana (Corpse Pose). The essence of Savasana is about allowing ourselves to deeply rest at the end of an asana practice so we can integrate the physical practice. In the traditional version of Savasana, we lie flat on our back with our arms and legs angled away from the midline of our body. We close our eyes and we let our breath become completely unconstrained.
But it’s important to realize that not everyone feels physically comfortable lying horizontal. Some of us with lower back or hamstring tightness may struggle to fully relax. Those with mobility issues may have problems getting down onto the floor and back up again. Others experience shortness of breath while lying down. Additionally, anyone who has experienced trauma may experience mental and emotional discomfort from feeling too exposed in this position or having their eyes shut.
The following variations take these considerations into account so they can allow you to experience the why behind Savasana—which is rest— while respecting your individual needs.
5 Savasana variations
Any preceding yoga poses are preparation for Savasana, although you can take this resting pose at any time, regardless of whether you’ve been practicing yoga.
1. Traditional Savasana
Lie flat on your back with your legs extended straight in front of you and allow your feet to fall away from each other. Move your arms away from your body, palms facing up, or place your hands on your belly. You may place a rolled-up blanket or pillow beneath your knees to ease any tightness in your lower back or hamstrings.
Closing our eyes during Savasana doesn’t always feel comfortable. You have the option to soften your gaze and focus on a fixed place on the ceiling. If you’re a teacher, use inviting language when cueing Savasana to allow students to tune into what feels best for them at that moment.
Additionally, if you’re uncomfortable with your legs in the traditional version of the pose, you have the option to bend your knees and rest your feet flat on the mat with your knees toward the ceiling. Either place your feet under your knees or step your feet wider and allow your inner knees to touch.
2. Savasana on an incline
This variation is an option for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable lying horizontally, perhaps due to pain in the hamstrings or low back. Create a gentle incline with your yoga props. I like to set up a stepped foundation with foam blocks and they lay my bolster along the steps. Sit with your back a couple of inches in front of the incline, your knees bent, and your feet flat on the mat. Slowly lower yourself onto the support of the incline. You can keep your legs bent or straighten and extend your legs in front of you. Make any adjustments until you feel comfortable.
If you like, you can use an eye pillow to block out the light and provide a gentle weight that some students find relaxing.
3. Savasana on your belly
This variation of the final resting pose is an option for anyone who feels too exposed lying supine on their back. Place a bolster lengthwise along the center of the top half of the mat. Place a foam block, folded blanket, or sturdy pillow at the top of your mat about a foot in front of the bolster’s edge. Place a folded blanket a foot or two away from the other end of the bolster. Kneel on the blanket and slowly lower your chest onto the bolster. Adjust the block or other support so you can rest your forehead on it with space for the rest of your face between this and the bolster. Use “cactus arms” here (upper arms perpendicular to your torso and forearms perpendicular to your upper arms). Adjust your legs hip distance apart or wider, finding a position in which you feel completely comfortable. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
4. Side Savasana
This variation can be a good option for anyone who feels uncomfortable or overly exposed lying supine. It’s also a prenatal variation for Savasana. Place a folded blanket, pillow, or bolster across the top of the mat. Lie on your side in fetal position, placing the side of your head on the bolster and extending your bottom arm straight out in front of you. Rest your top arm wherever it feels most comfortable—whether along your side body, on the mat, even alongside your ear. Place a folded blanket between your knees if necessary for comfort. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.
You want to be certain that your head position allows the cervical vertebrae of your neck to remain in line with the rest of your spine. Be careful not to use support that lifts your head too high.
5. Seated Savasana
This variation is an option for anyone who struggles to get down onto the floor and back up again. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet under your knees and your shoulders above your pelvis. Drape a thick scarf or rolled blanket over the back of your neck, cross it over the front of your chest, and tuck the ends in between your arms and sides of your waist to support your arms. Rest your hands on your thighs and either close your eyes or soften your gaze.
About our contributor
Andrew McGonigle has studied anatomy for more than 20 years. After initially studying to become a doctor, he moved away from Western medicine to become a yoga and anatomy teacher. He shares his knowledge of the body and the ways it moves in yoga teacher training courses throughout the world and leads his own Yoga Anatomy Online Course. His second book, The Physiology of Yoga, was published in June 2022. To learn more about Andrew, check out doctor-yogi.com or follow him on Instagram @doctoryogi.