I taught on a college campus my first year as a yoga teacher. My classes were around lunchtime and early evening when most people were wrapping up for the day. Although many of my students appreciated Savasana and found it relaxing, many displayed one of two completely different and entirely common attitudes toward the pose.
“My favorite!” some students would exclaim. “Naptime!”
Naptime? Well, not exactly….
Others would seek me out before class. “Um, I have this test I really need to study for. I’m heading out during that part when everybody lies down. Is that cool?”
I would nod accommodatingly and say threw my gritted teeth, “SUUUURE! And thanks for coming today!”
What I really wanted to say was, “Nope. No, you may not. You wouldn’t skip your cooldown after a run. (Well, maybe you would.) You wouldn’t skip brushing your teeth after breakfast. (Well, maybe you would.) It ain’t over til it’s over, and Savasana is the most important part. Here, I’ll write your prof a note…”
Not that I’m judging. After all, Savasana is my least favorite pose. Put me in headstand for an hour, but anything longer than three minutes in Savasana and I’m ready to bolt out the door myself. Why? Because it is just so hard!
It is hard to go from a 100 miles per hour mindset to absolute zero.
Practicing Corpse Pose.
Savasana means “corpse pose”. Not “rest pose”. Not “relaxation pose”. (And definitely not “Naptime.”) It is important that we name Savasana what it is. Our culture is very uncomfortable with death. Most of us die in hospitals. When we are dead, our bodies are taken away and often cared for by a stranger. Part of the reason we fear death is not actually that we fear death itself, but rather we fear dying. Our fear arises from our disconnection with the dying process and what happens to the body after death. When we call Savasana “relaxation pose”, we are contributing to our apprehension about death and dying. We are also cheating ourselves out of an important practice: the practice of death itself.
To practice Savasana, we lie flat on our backs and close our eyes. We consciously relax our bodies. The arms rest alongside our bodies with our hands several inches from our hips. The arms and palms are allowed to roll open naturally, as are the legs and the feet.
As our body relaxes, we invite our minds to relax as well. The minds are in a state of alert stillness. For our purposes, imagine there are three levels of consciousness. The first level of consciousness is the one we are in right now. It is allowing me to type and you to read. This is our normal waking consciousness. The second level of consciousness is unconsciousness (not to be confused with subconsciousness). This is the level of consciousness we are in when we are asleep or when we have fainted. This state of unawareness is below consciousness.
The third level of consciousness is the super-conscious level. This is the transcendent state experienced when the mind truly becomes still. Although we are conscious, we are without thought. Savasana and meditation provide opportunities for this state to occur.
Staying and Stillness.
I wish I could say that I frequently enjoyed this super-conscious level when practicing Savasana, but alas, I do not. I spend most of my time in Savasana running the same tapes in my head that I play before and after my yoga practice. “Do this, don’t do that, so-and-so is mad at you about such-and-such, you are going to be broke, all your friends are going to hate you, the world is going to end, and, most importantly, it is ALL YOUR FAULT!” Is it any wonder many people find this to be the most challenging pose?
With all of that head-drama, it would seem that this pose is not only pointless, but also torturous. However, staying with the discomfort that one experiences in Savasana, without checking-out entirely and falling asleep, is precisely the point.
Perhaps better than any other asana, Savasana teaches us to stay. There is nothing to distract us. We learn to abide in our self. We do not bolt, we do not flinch, we do not turn away as we are confronted with the many levels of our conscious selves. We stay as they present themselves one-by-one, or sometimes two-by-two, or even more. As we practice this art of staying, eventually we touch into the stillness that it Savasana. It may just be a second or two. Time has no inherent meaning, so how long we touch into that stillness is irrelevant. In touching into that stillness, we touch into a part of our selves that is not fragmented. We experience ourselves as we truly are: whole, complete, and infinite.