This Is the Most Important Yoga Pose You'll (Probably) Ever Learn
Not as Gory as It Sounds
Shavasana is better known as the Corpse Posture. Seriously, one might think that one of the — if not the most important asana — would be given a less gory name. But, it was named for a deceased body with good reason. During the pose, the student resembles a corpse, limbs straight, on their back and eyes closed. However, the name's origins have stronger ties with what happens during shavasana and not because of what it looks like. The goal of this pose is to fully relax the body until the physical body no longer matters, almost as if it were dead. Once the body is “removed,” the mind is released. When the mind is free, some of yoga's greatest rewards can be reaped. Many experienced yogis will give this advice — even should you abandon all other yoga poses, never let go of shavasana.
Doing Nothing Is Powerful
Students who aren't familiar with the Corpse Pose might view an online image or an unconcious-looking instructor in class. They'd wonder, “How on Earth does resting on the floor count as a pose? You do nothing!” Not entirely true. Before we get to shavasana's technique and surprising 'busyness,' let's first have a look at the good stuff.
The most obvious is relaxation. However, when achieved in shavasana's proper form, it's not just about feeling chilled out. It's an energizing, wipe-the-slate-clean kind of reboot and refreshment all rolled into one. The effect spreads through everything; the body, mind and spirit. A second benefit is perhaps the most priceless. Through diligent practice, shavasana allows the true individual to emerge. How? By stripping away the physical personality. When, at that moment, clothes, physical 'flaws', age and even the ego don't matter, all that's left is who you really are.
A lot of suffering hails from losing contact with our authentic selves. We hide to fit in or protect ourselves from people and situations that don't accept us for who we are; restrictive parents, abusive partners, a work environment with a strict adherence to certain 'types'. Also, because it's like a spa break for the mind, shavasana's benefits include clear thinking and better crisis management.
How to Be a Corpse
1. Choose a comfortable spot; a yoga mat or even the bed is fine for shavasana
2. If you want to place a pillow under your head, you may. If it's cold, cover yourself with a blanket or wear socks
3. Lie on your back and spread the feet a little, don't keep them together. Instead, relax the feet so that the toes fall sideways
4. Move the arms away from the body, palms up
5. Close your eyes
6. Consciously relax the muscles by mentally searching for tight spots and release them until completely relaxed
7. Next, focus on your breathing without trying to control or force it; just experience how the breaths move air in and out of your body
8. Should you become aware of a muscle tightening again somewhere (and this will happen!), release the knot without negative feelings about the interruption and return to breath awareness
9. View your thoughts as balloons. Whenever one rises, gently push them away like they're full of air and let them to float off. As long as you're in shavasana, there's no need to cling to any thoughts – give yourself that permission
10. Always return to breath awareness
Not as Easy as It Looks
Shavasana's helps to transcend the entire body, which is harder than it sounds. Nearly every person who decides to try the Corpse Pose for the first time is confident that they'll ace it the first time. What's so hard about lying down and letting go? Wait until you try to banish muscle tension and thoughts; it's nearly impossible. You might even relax too much without staying aware of the pose — and drift off to sleep. However, there's nothing stopping you from using the Corpse Pose as a sleeping aide!
Stretch Your way to Relaxation
The Secret Is to Melt in Parts
Instead of trying to relax your entire body and mind at once (not going to happen), start with the body. Imagine your foot melting away into a warm, comfortable nothingness. Then, the lower leg, followed by the rest of the leg. You get the idea. Work through the entire body in this manner. When you reach your head, make a point of it to consciously relax your face muscles, which tend to tense up constantly.
Another variation is to work the part before releasing it. For example, the toes must curl tightly and then relax, or the stomach muscles are contracted, held and released. Some students like to lift each leg, lift heir hips, stick out tongues and open their mouths widely as they go through the tensing stage. Always start with the feet and work your way up to the head. After the entire body is relaxed, scan it once more for tenseness. Now, forget the body and focus on breath.
Make Yourself Comfortable
Don't Forget the Mind
What makes the Corpse Pose easy is that anyone can lie down and relax their bodies. However, because it looks so easy, students don't always take it as seriously as other poses. For some, it's merely a “cool down” position after a session. However, doing only the physical side is not shavasana. Its ultimate goal is complete transcendence of the body and mind. Should a student desire only physical release, then it's fine to practice only the bodily aspects of shavasana. However, here are some incentives to pursue the whole package.
- Calm and clear thinking
- More peace during the day
- Meeting the real you and bringing that person back into the world
- More confidence and less worrying
- Better ability to cope with tough times
Here's the Hard Part
Those incentives sure look good but here's the real reason people often neglect the mental side of this pose — it's hard. The next step after moving past the body is to separate from thinking. Thoughts distract the mind from true relaxation. Trying really hard not to think is like fertilizer for thoughts. More will pop up until they clamour a person downright crazy.
When a thought arises, see it as something other than a part of you. A creature coming out of the dark, a balloon drifting closer or just a presence. Acknowledge it. Why? You tried ignoring thoughts and they multiplied. So, acknowledge the arrival and then detach from it. Let it go. The more you do this, the more thoughts will turn away until you'll glimpse stretches of focused emptiness. That's the gate to great mental gifts and control — just keep at it.
© 2018 Jana Louise Smit