In yoga, savasana, or corpse pose, looks just like it sounds. You lie on your back – legs straight, feet falling outward, arms to your side, palms up – everything relaxed. You let go of the very muscles and breathing you’ve been hell-bent on controlling for the previous hour, and you rest. Deliberately. Consciously.
Not sleep, mind you. That would be easy. Savasana is neither waking nor sleeping. It’s resting, in its purest sense.
Here’s what I’ve learned. I am not good at resting. I skip savasana all the time because I am not naturally quiet – body or mind, and it stresses me out to lie still. I fidget. For example, I’m a foot jiggler. Mid-conversation, I’ve had people reach over in an effort to stop my constant motion. I am restless. I’ve never quite managed to train my puppy mind to stay put and, to be honest, I’m okay with that. I think it’s possible that for me relaxation might be a more active process than it is for most people. I suspect when I finally find a meditation that works for me, it will not be one that requires me to sit still. I’ll find peace on a trail long before I find it on a meditation mat.
That said, I had a conversation with a friend this week that has me rethinking my bad savasana attitude. Recently she suffered an injury that left her unable to do her regular yoga class, but her physical therapy included lying in corpse pose, a rolled towel under her neck, for fifteen minutes every day. She described to me how she would feel totally relaxed and then, about ten minutes in, she would experience a sudden release, her body letting go of tightness she did not know was there. It amazed her.
Hearing about it amazed me…
Last week, I cried. On the ground of a dirt parking lot at the head of a trail I did not intend to hike, I cried for a long time and when I was finished, I felt what my friend described – that I had let go of a terrible tightness I didn’t know was there. (Okay, I knew it was there, but I didn’t realize its magnitude until it was gone.) I watched the sun sink below the horizon utterly spent, but physically relieved.
That we store bad stuff in our body is not news. Stress (fear, negativity, loneliness, anger) elevate our blood pressure, suppress our immune system, eat the lining of our stomach, ball up into fists the muscles of our neck, shoulders and back. There are a lot of ways to relieve that physical buildup. Some people run. Some hike. Some dance. Some meditate. I think all those are good, but as long as I’m doing the yoga five days a week, I think I’ll go ahead and try savasana. Corpse pose. Seems a hell of a lot more constructive than uncontrolled sobbing in parking lots.
Next Monday, I’ll let you know how it goes.
If you practice yoga, I’d love to hear your thoughts on savasana. If you don’t do yoga, how do you relax, how do you relieve physical tension you’ve stored? And why do you think relaxation is such a difficult thing? (As it turns out, savasana is difficult for a lot of people.)