Savasana–the Death Pose

August 8, 2014

If someone asked me about the defining moment of my training to be a yoga teacher, I would probably say it was those moments spent observing people during the dying process—both at home and in various end-of-life care settings.

So far this morning, my yoga practice has mainly been to lie still in Savasana, the Corpse Pose. “Shava” or “Sava” means corpse. In the book Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language, author Swami Sivananda Radha cut to the chase and called Savasana the death pose. She said that, if we don’t want to be a living corpse, then the purpose of life has to be established: “If you want to be an active participant in your life and not a parasite, then the dynamic interdependence between life and death has to be recognized, and the two have to meet in directed and concentrated interaction.”

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I don’t usually do Savasana first thing in the morning, but I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts. My usual quick cure for feeling overwhelmed is to hang upside down in my wall ropes, lie back over my extra-high backbender, or relax on a bolster in the Goddess Pose (Supported Bound Angle Pose). Or take a walk with my dogs. Or go back to bed! But this morning the peace and quiet of Savasana called me. I did just enough Downward Facing Dog Pose, gentle twists, and leg stretches to get the kinks out of my body so that I could lie still without fidgeting.

In Savasana, the body lies perfectly aligned on the floor, face-up and completely relaxed. The mind is alert and aware, observing the river of the breath and consciously feeling the bones—the skeletal frame of the body—lying heavy on the floor and the muscles letting go. The eyes are closed, sinking in their sockets; the gaze is inward; the tongue and jaw are loose; the arms rest at the sides of the body, palms up; the extended legs lie slightly apart. The body remains as motionless as a corpse.

Savasana gives us the experience of symbolic death—death to everything we identify with—and allows us to satisfy, while still alive, the deep need to be reborn fresh and new.

In the deeper levels of Savasana, we feel the body as a shell—the temple of the spirit, or whatever words resonate to that effect—as we experience the pleasant feeling of letting go. As the mind follows the peaceful flow of the breath, its usual busy activity slowly subsides. The senses gradually withdraw and become still. Our earthly concerns are, at least for the moment, put to rest.

As B.K.S. Iyengar states, “The best sign of a good Savasana is a feeling of deep peace and pure bliss. Savasana is a watchful surrendering of the ego. Forgetting oneself, one discovers oneself.”

To this I humbly add: Another sign of a good Savasana is that one feels one’s sense of humor returning.

And that is why I practiced Savasana so early this morning. 8170003

* * *
A note about the photo:
A bolster or folded cotton blanket under the legs, a ten-pound sandbag (or other weight) across the pelvis, and an eye pillow to quiet the movement of the eyes help the body to relax.

Photo Credit: Ruth Miller

This photo is from my book, Yoga and the Wisdom of Menopause. The model is my longtime student, Catherine Meek.
— in Ojai, CA

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