Ah, Savasana...the sweetest-sounding 4-syllable word any yoga teacher can say to you. After a long practice, lying down in to Corpse Pose is one of the best things you can do for your body. But do you know why? Let’s start with Savasana’s history.
The History of Savasana (Corpse Pose):
Yoga is a celebration of life. As we move through a practice, the asanas celebrate an appreciation for our body’s ability to be animated and alive. So, at the end of each practice, it makes sense that we celebrate that life with a moment of stillness in Savasana; the “death” of our lives.
Western culture doesn’t really assimilate us to dead bodies. In fact, some of us may have never seen one at all. For those who have, we’ve probably seen them made-up by funeral technicians to look as they did when alive. But there was a time when seeing death was not uncommon in America. Historically, the death rate was high. Families prepared the bodies and held funerals in their homes. Having seen dead bodies or not, it is easy to understand that the life-force that made them animated, emotional, warm and spirited is no longer there.
In India, meditating on death is part of a cultural practice. It helps to come to terms with death as a part of life. Zo Newell, author of "Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis," references a famous story of a crying woman who asked the Buddha to bring her daughter back to life.
“Bring her back to life!" she begged, "Because you can!" The Buddha agreed that he could and said "I will bring your daughter back to life if you bring me a measure of mustard seed from a house where no one has died." The woman ran to every household. But each one had seen death. By the time she returned to the Buddha empty-handed, she had begun to accept the truth: “We are of nature to die. There is no escaping death.”
Therefore, in Savasana we are encouraged to celebrate that death. Celebrate the acceptance, the lives we’ve lived and the practice we just did. There is another story of Brahma, the god of creating life, who created so much life that the world had become overpopulated. His wife, Sarasvati, the goddess of wisdom, told him that he had no exit strategy for the lives and that he must create death. So Brahma created Mrityu, a goddess to take away people’s lives. She was horrified by her duty and ran away. Shiva, the god of yogis, found her weeping and said not to worry because he would see to it that all who die are reborn. And so, she became Mahakali, the dark goddess who devours life and Shiva became Mahakala, the regenerator. Together they take what was and transform it into a foundation for a new being.
Practice the meditation:
- Lay in Savasana and keep your eyes, tongue, lips, jaw relaxed.
- Draw the shoulder blades under, opening up the heart.
- Lay the arms long aside the body with palms facing up.
- Draw the legs apart with feet to either corner of the mat.
- Allow the feet to drop gently to the side and release any muscle engagement.
- Breathe deeply, but quietly, taking a mental scan of how the body feels.
Physically, Savasana lowers the heart rate, relaxes the muscles and evens out the body. At first, it may be difficult to relax; that bead of sweat is rolling in to your eye, your clothes need adjusted, that annoying itch on your right arm just won’t go away. Ignore the chatter and focus on the breath, relaxing and letting go of mental distractions. Eventually you will come to a state of conscience spaciousness where you will be able to focus on what matters.
Newell suggests these points of meditation:
- If you died now, would you be satisfied with the way you’ve lived?
- How do you want to be remembered? As a loving person or inspiring teacher? Or someone with great abs?
Author’s note: For more great information on Savasana and other common asanas, check out "Downward Dogs & Warriors Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis" by Zo Newell available at the Release Yoga Studio boutique!