Sweat collecting, hair undone, fully inhabiting your body and the space it occupies, you lie down. The journey of your yoga practice for today is almost complete.
Feet and hands set apart, you settle onto your mat-oasis and seek your savasana. At the end of any yoga practice, and at the end of this ashtanga practice, savasana is always the final posture.
Savasana: the corpse pose. After an hour and more of constant movement and breathing, the final posture is always that of stillness, of complete rest, in body and mind. A mindful rest so still that when asked what it feels like, the answer could be “nothing.”
Corpse pose might sound dramatic. Sleeping the sleep of the dead? As with many asanas (postures) in a yoga practice, the meaning can be found in metaphor.
Yoga is a transformative practice. As we stretch the body and release tension, strengthen the body and build new resilience, quiet the mind and let go of old anxieties, we change and evolve. This final closing posture, savasana, is our final act in releasing old habits, embracing transformation, and rebirthing to our own new self. We become a corpse temporarily, and when we awaken we are on some subtle level, born again.
For the change to come, we must surrender to the stillness, like so many caterpillars in our self-made cocoons. The hard physical work takes place in the minutes and asanas before. But savasana is where the good stuff happens, and can often be the hardest posture.
The more effort and intensity spent in the asanas before, the more your mind might settle into that still state. All that is needed here is all limbs lying flat on the floor, with hands set slightly apart from the hips and feet turned out slightly (not crossed over one another, keep the lines of energy clean and flowing). Closing your eyes, you simply need to breathe, let go, and remain still.
In your own space-time continuum where the complete cycle of your practice has come to an end, now you enter the silence of savasana—silent on a internal, external and mental wave, where your body goes from movement to rest, your breath goes from audible ujayi to silent billowing, and your mind tends toward stillness.
Not thinking is one of the hardest thing any human has attempted.
Entering into a space of stillness and non-thought is hard. Before your mind begins to race ahead to the delicious breakfast that follows or your to-do list that awaits, try tuning in to your own body. Scan each part. From feet, to ankles, to shins, to knees and so on. And then, scan the room. Listen to your own silence, and the space between that silence. Your own mindful, audible breath may have stopped, but the breath of others continues around you.
If you choose to listen, you’ll find yourself riding on wave upon wave of others’ practices still flowing, others’ breaths, other yogis in the middle of their own self-styled dance. In a Mysore-style ashtanga room, self practice allows you to begin whilst others are mid-way through, and your practice to end whilst others may only be beginning. There is no definitive beginning or end, it is simply a wheel of continuous breath and movement and stillness.
You might hear a steady breath that suddenly deepens and has a forceful inhale followed by an extended exhale. There’s no need to imagine what posture this breath is flowing with, no need to connect the sensation of listening to others’ breaths to anything beyond the breath itself.
It’s like the practice that was once all yours—your breath, your postures, your drishti—becomes your practice merged with everyone else’s, and that immediate power of stillness in the now makes you feel at once even more isolated in your still place amongst constant movement and breath, and also connected at the soul level, knowing that we all breathe the same breath, that we all share the same experience.
We are are all in this moment, this very moment of awareness, together—experiencing it from different angles, from different postures, different breaths…and with your eyes closed and embracing corpse you fail to distinguish what sound comes from where, until it washes over you like so many waves and you are drowned in the overwhelming sense of now, of here, of you, of us, of all.
These are the sounds you might hear in the space between your savasana, and the thoughts that may ebb and flow as you lose connection with the here and become fully in the now, and lose yourself in your cocoon.
Savasana will always be my most sought after, most relished and most careful asana.
Author: Jenny Rose Lovatt
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Wikimedia Commons