The Final Pose
Savasana, the corpse pose, is the death at the end of our practice. It’s the final letting go—the grand release that goes way beyond deep relaxation. Some people surrender to this pose easily, their muscles sliding right off their bones into the earth. For others the corpse is uncomfortable and challenging, perhaps a little too reminiscent of our inevitable corporeal end.
When it’s time for savasana, after the practice, we begin to shift gears back to stillness. We close the eyes, relax the muscles, abandon all bandhas, and let the breath flow freely. Skillfully leading us into a deep meditative space, Richard Freeman encourages us to open the ears and relax into listening, to feel the navel deep, and to let “the tongue be silent, letting everything be, just as it is.” Vairagyam.
By far this is my favorite part of the mat asana practice: when I get to just lie there, palms open, soaking up the delicious prana. Prana, the life force, that—for the past hour or two—I’ve skimmed from the sun, the air, the earth via the ujjayi breath and the postures of the Ashtanga Vinyasa series.
“The essence of the pose is to embody complete balance in all directions,” says Richard, “and also to find equanimity between the state of being completely alert and that of being absolutely relaxed.”
It’s important to remain in the corpse at least until the heart and breathing rates slow down. But it’s even better to stay longer to completely soak in the residue of the practice, assimilating the fruits more fully.
I enjoy even more the savasana after pranayama practice, as the breathing practice is all about watching, observing, staying alert and open, and relishing the smallest sensations. At Kaivalyadham (the pranayama school in India), Tiwariji reminds us again and again that respiratory fatigue is a big no-no. If you feel any fatigue or straining at all during practice, you must lie down. Don’t push yourself, and do not allow your heart rate to accelerate. After some rest, having unblocked nadis and opened up the senses, with sweat evaporated and cool, the body is again ready to channel prana.
My teacher Mary Taylor always has a lot to say about death and dying, in part because of the work she does with Roshi Joan Halifax’s Being with Dying program. She reminds us that contemplating death is an important Buddhist practice, as nothing epitomizes impermanence quite like dying. Sometimes Mary and Richard talk about the yoga practice as a different kind of dying. When we let it all go (as in vairagyam), releasing our preconceptions and everything that we think defines who we are, we experience the dissolution of the egoic self, which is a kind of death.
Beyond relaxing after a practice, why not think of savasana as an invitation to reflect on death (i.e., your death). Practicing dying can really make you stop sweating the small stuff and can help get your life priorities in order. Use savasana prudently and ask yourself, in the face of the ultimate truth, that none of us has forever on this earth, what are you doing with your time? Why are you here?