The Stickiness of Stillness: The Challenges of Corpse Pose
When I was a kid, I hated naptime. I would lie down in the cot like everyone else and watch my little kid friends drift off into a blissful sleep. I would fidget, giggle, and sometimes, try to escape. To this day, I hate naptime.
When I first started doing yoga, I liked most of it, but I held a special distaste for that moment at the end where everyone lies down in total stillness. It was too much like naptime.
After a while, I got used to Savasana, and now I appreciate it, but some days it’s still really hard for me. No question we need moments of quiet relaxation in a stressful world. I’d just rather be doing Downward Dog.
And I know I’m not the only one. This past holiday season, in many of my classes when we got to the end, the room looked like popcorn: students jumping off their mats and hightailing it the moment they heard the word “Savasana.” One girl looked up during the pose, saw a bunch of other people rolling up their mats, looked at me, and mouthed, “I’m just gonna go.” So she did.
You don’t often hear much about Savasana in class. It doesn’t usually get much instruction: you lie down, let go of your conscious breath, and close your eyes. You “just” relax.
Yet this pose is the most important of our practice. Savasana means “corpse” pose and references Shiva, the Lord of Yoga and the Lord of Destruction. In this pose, we practice dying, letting go of everything. It concludes, integrates, and seals our yoga practice so that we have a chance to be reborn into the rest of our day.
As many of us can attest, however, “just” relaxing is a complex request. When we stop thinking about what our breath, hands, and feet are doing, thoughts, memories, worries, and all kinds of things can crawl up to the surface like sea creatures from the deep. Traumas are likely to resurface here, and, especially during the high stress of the holiday season, lying down in a room of strangers with your eyes closed and your belly exposed is no easy feat.
Luckily, the rest of our yoga practice helps prepare us for this moment of metaphorical death. We move our bodies and our breath to help release the stickiness in the physical and emotional self. We try new things and humble ourselves to our limitations. We listen to our teachers. We listen to our bodies. We practice cultivating mindfulness. Savasana is the true test of these practices: when there is no breath or alignment or even a specific sound to focus on if you are in silence (which I hope you are), it’s just you, your body, and your thoughts. No wonder it’s so challenging to be here.
So the next time you find yourself struggling in Savasana, know that you are not alone. Treat it like any other pose in the practice, and try. Do your best to be still with yourself and be a brave yogi, willing to be with uncomfortable thoughts and memories. It’s totally okay if you need to lie on your side or keep your eyes open, but do your best to stay. Corpse pose has a lot to teach you. After a while, you may discover that there is a sublime pleasure in practicing death.