Savāsana is the Sanskrit name for the pose that comes at the end of every yoga class, where you lie on your back and try not to move. The literal translation is 'corpse' or 'dead man’s pose', and depending on the length of the class, it can last anywhere up to 20 minutes. Many yoga teachers refer to it is the most important and difficult of all the poses — which I think is a bit of a stretch — but it does have a number of profound benefits, especially for wild and reckless mountain bikers.Method
1. Get comfortable.
- Lie on your back on a yoga mat or relatively hard surface.
- Bring your feet out wider than hip-width apart and let them fall open.
- Relax your hands, palms facing up and roll your shoulder blades underneath you.
- Close your eyes and try to stay completely still.
If your lower back is uncomfortable, you can put a pillow under your knees to adjust the angle of your pelvis. Pain and discomfort create tension in the body which can make it more difficult to relax.
2. Don’t move.
Not even a little bit. Resist the desire to scratch an itch or alter your position in any way. If your body is moving, it’s harder for your mind to find stillness. This is a great exercise in itself.
3. Scan your body for sensations.
Starting at your feet, scan your body all the way from the tips of your toes, up to the top of your head — systematically relaxing any areas of tension that you come across.
4. Focus on your breath.
- When you have finished scanning your body, bring your attention to your breath.
- Follow the gentle rising and falling of your chest and abdomen.
- Tune into the subtle sensations of expansion and contraction in your torso.
- Try to sharpen the quality and precision of your awareness.
When your attention is fixed on your breath, you give your mind a break from thinking.Benefits
Savasana has a number of benefits, from the physiological and psychological to the spiritual and ineffable, but I’ll just cover a couple here that are most relevant to your riding.
1. Faster recovery
“The better we are at recovering, the greater potential we have to endure and perform under stress.” Joshua Waitzkin.
Optimal performance requires adequate recovery — especially if you’re riding hard for multiple days back to back. Growth comes not only from relentlessly pushing yourself to your limit, but also from disciplined periods of rest, in which your mind and muscles have time to repair and grow stronger. We know this intuitively and from personal experience but that still doesn’t persuade most of us to give recovery the time and attention it deserves. Unfortunately, it’s just not all that exciting.
Savasana is a technique that you can practice to optimise your recovery — whether you tack it onto the end of your yoga session, include it in your post-ride cool-down or schedule it as a standalone session. Lying in a relaxed state, practising diaphragmatic breathing triggers the relaxation response, switching you from “fight or flight” into “rest and digest” mode.
A common issue we see in modern society is that people are chronically stuck in the sympathetic zone of the nervous system, in which the body prioritises survival over healing and repair. Regular practice of savasana trains your nervous system to come back into balance after you put life and limb on the line out there on the trails. If you’re injured, in pain or experiencing excessive stress, you’ll find this technique especially useful.
2. Increased body awareness
One of the techniques I guide students through in savasana is a body scan meditation. When practised consistently, this exercise increases your body awareness — both your interoception (the sense of what is going on inside your body) and your proprioception (the sense of where your body is in space).
In a sport rife with injury, the risk is that you get so good at shutting out pain that you lose the ability to tune back in when you need to. More often than not, pain is a signal from your body that damage is imminent, and it’s crucial that you “hear” this message so that you can respond appropriately. In the body scan, we systematically move through every part of the body, examining sensations and consciously relaxing areas of tension.
Paying attention to these subtle sensations enhances neuromuscular connections, enabling you to make technical and postural adjustments on the bike with greater ease and rapidity. Knowledge is power, so the more you know about what’s going in your body, the better rider you’ll be and the greater chance you have of avoiding joy-crushing injuries.
3. Emotion regulation
Meditation, of which savasana is one technique, has been shown to improve emotion regulation. If you’ve ever tried meditating, you’ll have quickly discovered that thoughts and emotions pop up in your mind without your assistance. You can’t think a thought before you think it or decide to feel an emotion without the relevant context. In high-pressure situations — facing an intimidating drop-off or lining up for an important race — the thoughts and emotions that you experience may not actually be all that helpful. Your brain has evolved to keep you safe and steer you well clear of risky situations, but where’s the fun in that? Your nervous system is like an over-protective mother, so thank her for her concern and then do whatever it is you need to do.
Savasana helps with emotion regulation through the pathways that I have outlined above — firstly, by eliciting the relaxation response and secondly, by fine-tuning awareness of your physiological and emotional response to high-risk situations before it overwhelms you. The body scan technique also trains your ability to repeatedly bring your focus back to the object you have chosen to put your attention on. With consistent practice, you’ll be able to manage your arousal response more effectively, think more clearly and calmly under pressure, and protect yourself against being hi-jacked by unwelcome thoughts and emotions.
4. Reduced tension
“Do not be tense, just be ready.” Bruce Lee.
Mountain biking creates a lot of tension in the body. Specific areas of tightness include the hips, hamstrings, calves, lower back, upper back, neck, shoulders, chest, forearms and hands. Essentially, most of your body. Some amount of muscular tension is critical in high-pressure situations but if this state becomes chronic, it can block your ability to repair and heal properly. Additionally, excessive muscle tension is associated with pain, knots, fatigue, stress, headaches, muscular imbalances, restricted blood flow, insomnia and a reduction in mobility — none of which are conducive to being a fast, powerful and agile rider.
In the body scan meditation, first you detect areas of tension and then you systematically let them go. An extended savasana of 15 minutes or more allows not only for surface tensions to dissipate but also relaxes layers of tightness deep down that may be restricting your flexibility and range of motion. After you have systematically let go of tightness in each part of your body, try to let go of tension more globally. On every exhalation, soften and let go a little more. Imagine yourself melting into the mat as you sink deeper and deeper into a state of relaxation. Try to drain all the tension from your muscles.Mastery
As with everything worth doing, to get the most out of this technique, the key is to be consistent. If you stick with it, in time, you should experience a gradual unravelling of tension that you can wind up nice and tight as soon as you get back on the bike.
I’ve filmed a 15-Minute Guided Savasana
that I’ll make available for free on my site for the next week. I’d love to hear how you get on with it.