Monday, March 13, 2006

Meditation on savasana -- corpse pose

Savasana: the pose that every beginning yoga student loves until its translated from Sanskrit to English, at which point, half the students get weirded out by the name.

Sequences of yoga poses can start and end in a variety of different poses. But in all the traditions I've experienced so far, the final pose is, invariably, savasana: lying flat on my back, legs extended, feet about 24" apart, heels in, toes out; weight in my buttocks, sacrum, mid-spine and shoulders; arms slightly out from the sides, shoulder blades in, palms up; head resting on the occipital region of the skull, eyes closed.

As BKS Iyengar wrote in Light on Yoga that savasana is among the hardest of poses to master. Despite all the times I've been reminded of that, it's never been clear to me exactly why that is so. Today I might have begun to figure it out.

Taking Alanna's instruction from the vinyasa sequencing class (see below), I decided to set a specific intention for this evening's practice: I dedicated my practice to Siva. Mind you, while I really like the figurines of dancing Siva, I don't tend to think of Siva as a dancing god of destruction who stands in counterpoint and equipose to Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the sustainer. I do, however, think of Siva as an embodiment of the Ending -- of an amalgam of letting go; of focus; of breathing out; of the close-lipped hum leading into silence at the end of OM; of concentration to a single point, ending all others. So, this evening, when I managed to think of anything other than tipping over, I tried to focus on a single point of internal concentration, letting go of everything else. As usual, I managed quite poorly to keep my focus.

The practice concluded, as usual, in savasana. In the past I've found that I tend to wiggle in savasana -- as soon as I get my body positioned on the mat, I begin to notice how much more positioning I need for the pose to feel exactly right. So while I start with the basic structure I've outlined above; I usually move to a second stage, where I'm doing micro-adjustments -- balancing the skin tension in my calves; shifting my glutes so the pressure on them is symmetrically balanced (yes, I do such things); extending one arm slightly to match the extension I feel in the other; curving or uncurving my neck, to get the angle of my skull exactly right. Often enough, I find that before I'm done wiggling, the teacher is gently cueing us to "come back into your bodies." And I've never allowed mine even to hold still.

So today, once I laid down in savasana, my mind reminded me of my dedication of the practice to Siva. And I thought briefly of the corpses we examined in the cadaver lab a couple of weeks ago. They never shifted, as far as I saw, even though their weight was probably not perfectly balanced between left and right. And thinking that, I laid aside my perfectionist wiggles, and I became a corpse. Each out-breath became the last breath of this body. My mind noted the slight irregularities in the pose as I performed it, was aware of the minor asymmetries of skin tension against the mat. And it accepted those details and let go anyway.


Yoga teachers remind us frequently that there is no such thing as a perfect pose. There is only a pose that leads to enlightenment, and one that does not.

OM Namah Shivaya.