A couple of thoughts about savasana—first functional then the metaphoric
“As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” —Leonardo da Vinci
Savasana is perhaps the single most important pose in the asana practice and regrettably, often the most overlooked, ignored or dishonored. It is not a nap, it’s not a reward for beating yourself up in Asana practice, and it’s not the time to plan your day or decide what meal you are going to have.
It is synthesis, it is the resonance of the practice coming into sympathetic harmony, it is dynamic homeostasis—it is the integration of life-force into the physical form. It makes corpus into soma via spiritus animus! It makes Sava into Shiva, via Shakti!
I’ve heard, and know it to be true–many teachers short-shrift the savasana to pack in one more pose. Many simply throw down savasana and let it be (no other pose gets so little instruction on form and function) and I know it to be true that not only in some health clubs, big box fitness outlets and even in yoga studios, it’s is simply announced like a suggestion (and the majority of students jump up, roll up their mat and just clomp out of the class). No integration, no seal, no honoring the practice or the intention, and no homeostasis for the body–that is the world of working out, not working in.
Savasana is to be savored, and included and honored in every practice.
I teach a series of early morning classes and I catch a lot of folks on their way to work, or to other obligations. Therefore, I’ve got folks who can’t stay for the entire class. I’m good with this, because they are guided appropriately, they honor the space, I’d rather they get some practice to start their day rather than none, and because they get it. They stay close to the door, minimize their movement, and quit the practice at an appropriate time. They take their own minimum five minutes and depart after an honorable closing.
So, have I established that it is a peak pose, and actual asana, an important experience, and the ‘seal the deal’ posture–more so than Anjali Mudra and your Namaste: the real seal.
Why corpse pose? Because it mimics the trajectory of the life-cycle in the asana practice; we generally begin down on the ground, small, settled and contained. We build vigor and then we rise to standing from which we grow into expansion, power, movement, experimentation, success and failure through the peak. The natural trajectory then begins to diminish and we move closer to the earth, into slower and more grounded movements and a more restorative contemplative experience. At the culmination of the practice, we release the body from asana and we release the breathing from the pranayama–release, let go, let dissipate, allow decomposition, letting it die.
Sometimes, it almost appears that we’ve stopped breathing in the depth of savasana, as if we were being breathed from the external, rather from the energy. This is release, union and absorption and dissipation. This is the metaphor for death. To let go in practice so when presented by the actual, we have an association to inform.
And why is Sava the corpse?
This corpse, Sava, is interpreted as representing the adept experiencing one of the yoga asanas, Savasana, or ‘posture of the corpse’, in which the yogi lies on his back utterly relaxed in mind and body. All his energies are abandoned and symbolically externalized in the figure of the Shakti dancing above him. In the essence or the implied intention of being that detached from his feminine side, Shakti, the yogi is incomplete and as good as dead.
This belief is expressed in the words: shivah shakti vihinah shavah or “Shiva deprived of Shakti is Sava (a corpse).” This statement recurs in most of the Tantras in one form or another. So, without the animating grace of the feminine to come into the male corpse, we wouldn’t have the form of Shiva—without the corpse that desires the animation, Shakti would have no lover.
Body without spirit is corpse; spirit without body yearns for expression and union, like lover. So, when we practice for death in the final pose of the practice, we invite the life-force to come and once again reanimate us into the dance of life, dance every day, until Shakti leaves Shiva and Sava is all that remains. Practice, all is coming. Release, for all is going.
“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.” —Oscar Wilde
Not dead, yet! So, give thanks, praise and practice!!
Editor: Tanya L. Markul