The Corpse Pose
The moving we do in a yoga class is revitalising, life enhancing and nourishing. Yet at the end of the class, we take Savasana, a pose that symbolises death. Savasana means Corpse pose, which is often something I shy away from explaining in class, especially these days. However, even though we may avoid the subject, death will always be a part of life. This is something the ancient yogis, who gave the name to this posture, were acutely aware of.
Letting Go of the Physical
The death of Savasana (you will be pleased to know) is a metaphorical death. In my own practice, I experience it as a letting go of the physical body, as if it is no longer so vital, so important, so alive. The physical body becomes inert. And what happens then is rather surprising… The connection to, and sense of, the other parts of my being, become much more to the fore, as the physical body recedes to the background of my experience.
The Five Koshas
In yoga theory, we have five “koshas” or “sheaths” of our being. All these layers are interwoven. A little like a psychic fascial web, they surround and contain, join and interleave with each other. The koshas are able to exchange feelings, sensations and flow at the molecular level. Some of these communications may be explained by releases of neurotransmitters into the bloodstream, neural connections throughout he fascia, however, some are unexplainable, they may even be entirely non-physical. Bear in mind, all of the koshas as said to be illusory, in that they are not fundamentally real. Even the physical body, that most tangible of the koshas, is said to be an illusion. For the perspective of yoga philosophy, only consciousness is real.
So the five layers or koshas are:
- Annamayakosha – The food body, the physical body;
- Pranamayakoha – The breath body, the energy body;
- Manomayakosha – The mental body, the grasping egoic part of our mind;
- Vigyanamayakosha – The wisdom body, the knowing intuitive part of our mind; and
- Anandamayakosha – The bliss body, the part of us that feels a deep sense of peace, wholeness, unity and love.
What Happens When We Stop?
When we come into Corpse Pose at the end of the class, we let go of that physical body. The focus upon the physical body during our movement practice has been allowing us to quieten the manomayakosha and become more in tune with the pranamayakosha. So when we stop moving and come into Savasana, we generally feel breath, energy, the currents and flows of prana within us. Savasana is a practice of allowing this prana, this life force energy to reorganise itself. The moving practice (asana) clears the nadis or the psychic pathways through whichprana flows. This is similar to the meridians, through which chi flows in Chinese medicine. The stillness of Savasana allows the prana to circulate, percolate and homogenise (settle within the body in an evenly distributed way).
Balancing and Re-organising
This homogenisation process allows your nervous system to come into balance, it also allows your nervous system to re-organise itself according to everything that it has learnt during the class. So if you have woken up new muscles, the neural pathways will have had a chance to settle into their new configuration before you get up and moving. This means that when you return to movement, you are less likely to bring old patterns back again.
When the Mind Takes Over
Savasana is not a joy to everyone. Those new to yoga and movement practice may find that the chattering mind (manomayakosha) becomes the main focus instead of the breath energy flows (pranamayakosha). If you find that your mind leaps into action as soon as your body settles to stillness, do not despair. Watching the mind is part of the process of learning to settle the mind. Bring your attention to the breath moving in the lower belly, and catch yourself when your mind wanders off. When you find that you’ve drifted back to thinking, congratulate yourself that you noticed. Then without further ado, bring your attention back to the breath in the belly. Repeat this process throughout your Savasana so you keep your mind focussed on the prana flow rather than the churning mind, as much as possible. You may find that it is easier to keep your focus on this process in a sitting position.
Taming Mental Rumination
This is the process taming the manomayakosha. The process takes time and it can feel tedious and annoying at first. We are used to getting somewhere and achieving something. Looking at the dreary thoughts that circle incessantly in the mind is not anyone’s idea of fun! Yet finding a way to enjoy this process so you stick with it is the key to having a calmer clearer mind. It is the key to being able to gaining a mastery over your thinking. Then you can develop the capacity to choose the thoughts that are supportive, and to discard those which are critical, nagging or otherwise unsupportive.
When Tension Acts as Protective Armour
Another reason Savasana may not be a blissful end to a yoga practice is that for some people it feels unsafe to relax that deeply. People who are working with post traumatic stress disorder may feel safer when there is a level of tension present as a protective measure. If this is your experience, then please do not feel you have to stay still in Savasana, there is no benefit to Savasana in this case. Instead try lying on your front (perhaps with a cushion underneath the belly and hips) in Crocodile Pose. In this way the body feels more protected as the softer more vulnerable parts are facing the floor. You will get feedback how your diaphragm is working, as you notice your belly moving towards, and away from, the floor. If Crocodile Pose does not suit you, then try Child’s Pose or rocking forwards and backwards on All Fours. Focus your attention on the connection between your body and the ground below you.
Connection to Earth; Connection to Centre
Allowing the body to rest on the floor also allows the body to find its centre. Aligning ourselves with the floor can help to unwind twists and turns in the pelvis and spine. This in turn allows for a freer flow of prana, the non-physical life force energy that flows through us. If your mind and nervous system allows, focus on the flow of prana, guiding it to places within you that need more space, healing or release.
A Safe, Enjoyable and Highly Therapeutic Practice
This practice can be enjoyed at any point in the day (an ideal time is after lunch). A 10-15 minute Savasana break can help to improve sleep, reduce back and joint pain, help lessen menopausal symptoms, reduce period cramps, alleviate headaches, tension and stress. You can have your legs straight, or knees bent, your calves up on a sofa or a chair or over a bolster. As with any asana, modify to make the pose suit your individual body and mind. Enjoy your practice!