October 27, 2013

Getting Comfortable in the Pose of Death.


This year, celebrate Halloween by getting comfortable in yoga’s most challenging posture.

Corpse pose is the most difficult yoga pose that exists, and no, I’m not kidding. (It’s at the end of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga for a reason, you know.)

Lying on your back as still as death is yoga’s most complex posture—so let’s take a peek into why.

While getting into this posture might be relatively simple, it’s accessing that limbo-like state between awake and asleep that presents the real challenge.

Savasana (pronounced shah-VAHS-anna)  is typically—and more pleasantly—translated from Sanskrit as “final relaxation,” but sava literally means corpse. Dig a little deeper (pun intended) into cultural definitions for “corpse,” though, and this posture’s internal complexity becomes less ambiguous.

Because not all belief systems see a corpse as something completely inanimate. Nope, many believe in the existence of something more—and something less tangible.

Still, most would not argue that when you’re dead you are not truly “alive” in the more commonly, physically-defined sense—and this is the key to better understanding corpse pose.

When a yoga practitioner rests in corpse pose, she’s trying to drift away from being actively mentally and physically alert, without falling asleep.

Keeping this in mind, let’s take a stab at corpse pose.

Lie on your back with your heels apart anywhere between just a few inches or as wide as your sticky mat and then let your toes simply fall out and away from each other. Next, begin to lengthen your tailbone toward your heels while retaining your lower spine’s natural curvature.

Momentarily reach your arms up toward the ceiling to help broaden the back of your body. Allow your shoulders to drop away from your ears as you rest each arm alongside your torso at a 45 degree angle, with your palms facing up.

Tuck your chin slightly—helping find length in the back of your neck—as you lift the base of your skull away from this release of your shoulders.

Consciously find symmetry throughout your entire body (this will help you to relax more fully). For example, make sure that your nose points straight up rather than tilting off to one side; feel both hands rest on the same knuckle; experience openness and evenness in your collarbones, along with a slight lift of your heart.

Scan your body slowly.

Let tension drop away from every cell of your being —including but not limited to your forehead, cheeks, tongue and jaw. Then scan your body again—letting each soft inhale bring new life into your still body, as each exhale allows residual stress and tension to leave you.

Your breath settles into such a fine texture that you can barely feel it coming in and out of your nostrils. Spend a few moments focusing on this sensation—or lack of sensation.

Finally, feel your body becoming heavy; your eyelids are so heavy that you couldn’t open them even if you wanted to.

Moving away from your physical posture, let’s begin to explore your internal experience during savasana. 

As your body quiets, the motion and noise in your mind will probably become more apparent.

Allow yourself to welcome these thoughts and emotions as they arise, without judging them. Try to feel every sensation and then let it go. I find this to be much easier said than done, so here’s a tip that I’ve found works best for me: imagine your thoughts as bubbles.

Bubbles pop up…and then they float away. They drift farther and farther away and new bubbles might surface, but you allow those to drift and float away too.

One thing I’ve found helpful in handling your conscious emotions or internal feelings is to completely acknowledge them and then try to feel their opposite.

For instance, when I’m feeling anxious, I recognize that this makes me feel heady and scattered and separated from my body, so I try to feel what, for me at least, feels like the opposite sensation—one of heaviness; almost like my body is filled with weighty sand.

On the other hand, if I’m feeling sad, then this feels heavy—like I’m already weighted down with sand, so I try to feel this opposite—which for me is something light and spacious, like a brightly colored balloon filled with helium.

(But these are just my examples, so play around with your own as they change and shift from practice to practice.)

And it’s definitely true that working through this type of internal information can get you away from where you mentally want to be—or not be—during your savasana. However, I’ve found that many people are simply uncomfortable lying still and supine—and these techniques will help increase your comfort level in the posture and, hopefully, over time you’ll train yourself to react differently when you enter it.

Working on corpse pose is well worth your effort—it absolutely has more to offer than any other posture, hands down. (A few of these benefits include relief from stress, headache, fatigue, insomnia and depression.) 

Yet changing your opinions and attachments to your body is certainly not easy, but we’re so much more than our physical selves.

After all, if you think about it, we play dress up every single day—whether it’s in a princess costume, a suit and tie or yoga clothing.

It’s also interesting that another word besides “corpse” with a potentially variable definition is “awake.”

According to the dictionary, awake means “to become aroused or active again” and “to become conscious or aware of something”—and isn’t it possible that we are truly able to become conscious and aware of our authentic natures only when we can rest enough to listen. 

So that’s why this Halloween, I’m suggesting that we all do more than overload on dark chocolate.

I’m offering up that we listen to—and reconnect with—our deeper selves—through something as deceptively “easy” as corpse pose.


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Ed: Sara Crolick

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