I recently received a snippet of newsletter from a yoga studio suggesting that as your yoga practice progresses, you might want to swap corpse pose (the reclined relaxation at the end of asana practice) for a sitting meditation. This, the piece suggested, will bring you “deeper into the practice.”
I generally try and stay open to suggestions in yoga practice that run counter to mine. Not hardening around my convictions is a good way to stay flexible and inspired.
But holy crap, really?
The idea that corpse pose is something you eventually “move past” kind of knocked my socks off. People, corpse pose is the one pose none of us are ever, ever moving past.
Each practice, in class or at home, is a wee little life cycle: we start with the breath, we start moving, and then we lie down and we let it all go. In doing so, we acknowledge that a necessary ingredient for a well lived life is being well prepared for death.
Soon after reading this email, I saw a facebook post regarding the death of someone I don’t know. In this post, it was said that he “died as we could all hope to go – in our sleep.” For the first time, my immediate response to this wasn’t:
“Amen to that!”
I caught myself truly, spontaneously thinking: “I’m not so sure about that…”
Death is the one veil we will all have the honor of lifting at some point. I’m not sure I want to sleep through it anymore.
At the beginning of my yoga practice, corpse pose was a much needed nap. Then it became the process of conscious relaxation. Now, it’s shifting once more.
During my most recent teacher training, we trainees taught a series of classes as a group. Rulick, (a great teacher in the Bay Area who you should check out), led the corpse pose at the end of one of these classes. As you imagine him saying the following while you lie still in final relaxation, you need to hear his fabulous Ukranian accent:
“This pose is called Savasana” he said “which sounds like the Hindu god Shiva the Destroyer. Shiva is the god of destruction. Think of this now, and try and relax.”
Later, while analyzing the class with our teacher, we went into absolute hysterics. We imagined telling our students: “I have planted a bomb in this room…now try and relax…”
But our teacher, Mary Paffard, stopped us in our tracks. She pointed out that his suggestion, while delightfully absurd, was actually dead on (pardon the pun.)
Savasana, she pointed out, is more than rest, more than relaxation. It is developing the habit of recognizing that at some point, everything we know will be destroyed. In the end, none of us will be left sitting in meditation. We will all have to lie down and let it go, so we may as well practice. And try and relax.