Savasana–pose of the corpse, the pose of final relaxation, the pose without which no practice is fully complete– is both a very simple pose and one that is rather advanced.
Sometimes when I teach beginners I ask them what was the first Sanskrit word they learned. Usually they guess the word is “yoga.” The first Sanskrit pose name they get, though, and it doesn’t take more than a couple of classes is savasana. For most beginning the practice of yoga, the permission to stretch out on the back after an hour or more of new ways of engaging body, mind, and spirit is welcome indeed. This is particularly true for those who are overly busy and chronically sleep-deprived as are so many people I know.
What teachers often miss about savasana is that it can be very hard for some students. Injuries (chronic or episodic), tightness, or habitual misalignment (or expectations of how lying down should feel) make it challenging to be in the pose. The default can be to put supports under the knees or head without taking the time to recognize that it may be necessary to focus on and adjust the alignment before relaxing to see if ease can be found without props.
Other practitioners find it agitating to be asked to lie still for 5-10 minutes, because they are so used to being active all the time. Even if they can make their bodies still, their minds race around, and the idea of final relaxation seems anathema.
At the beginning,
savasana can be just stopping movement and enjoying letting go and relaxing.
But the pose is something much deeper than relaxing after a good workout. The pose of the corpse is not about being unmoving like a dead body, but about ceasing consciously acting and surrendering to the elemental vibration of universal being so that the inner fullness becomes indistinguishable from that which infuses all of the matter of the universe. As one gets more advanced, the alignment in the pose evidently becomes one of inner fullness and luminousity supporting the draping of the physical body. We practice going to earth and light, dissolving the constant awareness of our individuality.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
How do you plan your return home from a retreat or vacation? Do you come home at the very last minute, so that the travel is exhausting and the first day back at work is a struggle? Or do you plan to have a day — or at least several hours — to unpack, make sure you have fresh food to eat, and have brought the feeling of vacation back into your home life before getting back to work?
When I was studying on retreat in Arizona, Paul Muller-Ortega took particular pains to emphasize the importance of doing savasana for at least a few minutes after sitting for meditation for a “slow re-entry.” Without the resting time in between practicing/adventuring/celebrating/retreating and working, it is like eating a loaf of bread right out of the oven, rather than giving it at least 10-15 minutes to rest. Right out of the oven, the is too hot and the texture is not right, and we cannot taste how good it is. Give it a chance to rest, and it is exquisitely hot and fresh and perfect.
We need to rest, to reintegrate, to settle or we can feel like there is no point in going on vacation. How many people do you know (perhaps you have said this yourself) who say there is no point in going on vacation because it just makes work harder on return? When I take a shorter vacation/rest/retreat to account for reintegration time, and then fully reintegrate, the rejuvenating properties of getting away definitely last longer.
I returned very late Sunday night. Yesterday I practiced at home, did my laundry, cleaned the yoga room, petted the cats, had a massage, did a little reading, cooked delicious food (homemade granola, kitcheree, greens from the garden), and went to sleep early. Now I am off to work, seeking to bring what I learned into my day.
Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.
The past few days have been very full. Last week was an intense week at work. I am enjoying having a house guest and deepening a new friendship. The workshop sessions on Friday night and this morning with Amy Ippoliti at Willow Street were wild and rich with information and play. I always enjoy teaching my two Saturday classes. Among all this activity, I hosted a little dinner party last night, which was quiet, but bubbling over with conversation.
After the workshop this morning, instead of going right home, I rode to Dupont Circle and had brunch with a fellow yogini, after which we walked up to Columbia Heights through Meridian Hill Park. We had a fantastic time talking and catching up, and I loved doing a little exploring in a part of the city that is outside my usual haunts.
All of these activities were healthy and life enhancing, but still, it was a lot. Just as including savasana is critical to assimilating the benefits of a good yoga practice into the fabric of being, taking a nap this afternoon before having one more evening of visiting with my friend Elisa and my getting ready for a couple of jam-packed, demanding work days, the sweet rest of a Sunday afternoon nap was critical for me to allow all the delights of the weekend to settle and integrate, to feel rested and enriched, instead of feeling like I need another weekend to rest from the weekend.
I have noticed over the years that I sleep more deeply and peacefully if I have made the bed before getting into it again. Smoothing out the sheets and the covers and fluffing the pillows after waking, releases the energy of the dreams from the previous night. This helps make sure that each returning to sleep is a new experience, an opening to the possibility of entering a wonderful state.
The principle of sauca (cleanliness or purity) invites us to be clean and clear before and as part of our physical and meditative practice and all our living. Imagine trying to practice yoga on a dirty mat and going into savasana (corpse pose/final relaxation) on a tangled blanket. Would you think it possible to become deeply relaxed? Probably not. If we want our space smooth to lie down for a yoga pose, how could we not need the same for a good night’s sleep, for a planned visit to another state of consciousness?
When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana. It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated. For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming. After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.
Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice. The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.
When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes? Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding? Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment? Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?
Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses. I would agree.