June 20, 2010

Shivasana and its Discontents

by guest contributor, Robert Allen

I love and I hate
what can I do
it aches me and
I hurt all over. –Catullus

So you’ve worked hard, stretched and meditated, and your asana yoga for the day is almost done; just a few more postures and your day will be better, your body stronger, your spirit calm. You feel pure, like light, sattvic.

Everyday you practice. You strengthen your moral and ethical life. You focus on postures and breath control. You dissolve the senses and fall into meditative absorption. You drift into contemplation and toward Samahdi, the (re) discovery of Self.

Whew, that’s a lot.

Let’s back up a little. Asana practice is an important piece of the 8 limbs of yoga. Should we practice all the poses? What if your forward bends are achey? What if you can’t touch your toes or twist your limbs into baddha padmasana? It doesn’t matter, it’s the doing of it that matters. Trying without trying. So you move forward to the last pose.

You’re almost finished, now comes The Last Surrender: Shivasana, the pose from Hell.

Corpse pose is integrative and you look dead while you do it. It is stillness in action.

Have you ever completed an intense yogic cycle with ease and art, only to come to shivasana and you begin to think? Patanjali warns against this “thinking” and suggests instead to dissolve our minds toward meditation.

So what do you do if you are lying on your back, muscles and systems open, and you begin to think? Lying there, your mind can easily switch back to fluctuating thought; the dishes need doing, kids need to be taken care of, an errand needs running, you’ve just had a disagreement with your mate, anything that activates the mind.

Shivasana is a necessary piece to your postural yoga. It is also the hardest because it requires complete stillness and openness of the body–and most importantly, stillness of being, of your soul, of your heart.

When we open in shivasana, we are opening to surrender, to the world, from evolution to involution, surpassing the continual process of prakriti (nature) toward Purusa (consciousness). So we lay there, dead in unattached openness to what comes next. Shivasana allows us to do so.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, dying to the world does not mean physically dying or reducing the self in any way. It is a dying away of things that harm us, like attachment, like karmic scars burned in the fire of controlled breath.

Yoga takes practice, experience, and guidance. Practice to quiet the mind and embody the spirit. Feel the freedom in your limbs, in your higher Self. Listen intently to your sangha, or your teacher. Discriminate between what’s helpful, and what’s not.

But what if shivasana still makes you crazy?

Just keep practicing. Mental and spiritual hygeine come at a cost, the cost of surrender and dying to the world as we find god within us. And don’t worry that you are “doing it wrong” as that’s ego and attachment talking at you.

So lay down on your back and stop thinking.

Just lay there…
Just lay there…
just be.

Robert Allen is a writer and teacher in the realm of relationships and the men’s movement. His articles have been distributed widely on the internet. He’s the author of the Integrity Pledge, a five part pledge for men who love women, and want to love them better.

Robert lives in northern California with his wife, elephant journal columnist Lasara Allen, and two daughters.

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