The Science of Savasana: How Rest Can Benefit Any Kind of Workout – Healthline

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You’ll want to start setting aside five minutes after every workout.
When yoga students are pressed for time, one of the first things to go is Savasana. That brief period of laying in corpse pose at the end of class can feel indulgent when you’ve got a million other things to cross off your to-do list.
But you might miss out on several mind and body benefits by skipping Savasana after yoga, HIIT, or any other workout.
When you think of Savasana more broadly as a mindfulness meditation practice that can be used after any type of exercise (not just yoga), this seemingly inactive period is actually powerful.
“Savasana allows the body to absorb the full effects of the workout,” explains yoga teacher Tamsin Astor, PhD in cognitive neuroscience and author of Force of Habit: Unleash Your Power by Developing Great Habits. “Especially in this active, overstimulated world, having a period of forced rest to do nothing but focus on the breath is a chance to really let go.”
Here are some of the biggest advantages of Savasana, and how it can be used as a complement to any exercise.
Whether you’re doing sun salutations, taking a HIIT class, or cycling, exercise has a profound effect on the body. Your heart beats faster, your body sweats, and your lungs breathe more heavily.
“Your body doesn’t differentiate between stress from running from a tiger, having a long day at work, or a run in the park,” says Dr. Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and yoga and meditation instructor. “Exercise puts us in that fight-or-flight state. Those situations trigger the body to flood itself with adrenaline and cortisol. The body shuts down all but its critical functions.”
Taking a rest post-workout counteracts those stress responses in the body, she notes.
It’s not just about our hormones, though. Savasana as a meditation practice also helps the organs return to regular functioning after performing in overdrive while you were exercising, thus aiding recovery.
“Meditation has huge benefits for physical health, such as reduced blood pressure, increased immunity and improved lung function,” says Astor.
When we allow the body to wind down after exercise — rather than bolting to the grocery store or back to the office — it creates a sense of calmness. And studies show that a regular meditation practice can help reduce stress and anxiety for the long term (just like exercise).
Combining the two may help provide even greater stress relief.
Turning exercise into a regular routine can be a challenge. Most of us can come up with an array of excuses to skip the gym. Savasana might one way to turn exercise into a habit.
“Savasana can help people stick to their exercise routines. At our core, we’re animals and we work on a reward system, either consciously or subconsciously. That period of rest is like a built-in reward system,” Manly tells Healthline.
Knowing that you can bliss out, either in traditional Savasana or simply by meditating on a park bench, could offer an incentive to work out.
You know that natural high you get after exercise? Savasana might help to prolong your elevated mood long after you’ve stepped off the mat, said Manly.
“If you’re able to really slow it down and enjoy the rest, you can take that relaxation through the next part of your day,” she said. “It lets the body flood with feel good neurochemicals that help you sustain your good mood.”
There’s also long-term mental health benefits from combining mindfulness with exercise. A 2016 study found that people with clinical depression saw immense improvements in their symptoms when they meditated for 30 minutes before hitting the treadmill twice a week for eight weeks.
Surprisingly, Savasana is considered one of the most challenging poses in yoga. It’s not easy to lay down, relax the breath, and silence the chatter in the mind. But disciplining the mind and body to meditate after rigorous activity builds resiliency that can be used in other areas of life.
Just like you learn to let go of life’s little worries when you’re in Savasana, you also develop the skills to react mindfully during a difficult situation.
How often are you thinking of something other than what you’re doing right now? A 2010 study that gathered iPhone app responses from 2,250 adults worldwide revealed that almost half our thoughts have nothing to do with what’s going on at any given moment.
Upon further analysis, the data also showed that people tended to be less happy when their thoughts did not align with their actions.
Next time your classmates start rolling up their mats and darting out of the studio just before Savasana — or you’re tempting to rush back to work after a run — double down on your own meditation.
Here’s how to actively rest after exercise to reap the mental and physical rewards of Savasana.
Joni Sweet is a freelance writer who specializes in travel, health, and wellness. Her work has been published by National Geographic, Forbes, the Christian Science Monitor, Lonely Planet, Prevention, HealthyWay, Thrillist, and more. Keep up with her on Instagram and check out her portfolio.
Last medically reviewed on October 30, 2018
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