A friend and fellow yoga practitioner was enjoying a run along the beach in Southern California. She noticed a billboard inviting viewers to come to a yoga class. The sign said No Savasana! No Chanting!
Anyone who came to class could be assured that they would not have to pause after the asanaclass to draw their sense perceptions inward and meditate on and in a relaxed body. Nor would they be asked to close their eyes, soften the throat and release the jaw while letting sound vibrate and relax their whole being. Nope, no chanting and no savasana. No time wasted in meditation, reflection or indeed any inward state of mind and body.
In the case of that studio, Yoga has been reduced from a comprehensive means by which to know oneself and be more alive and useful in the world—to an exercise class.
Savasana is often the first Sanskrit word that students learn. How sweet it is to soften into the pose at the end of an asana class or home practice. We let go of any doing and even any idea of how the body heart and mind should feel. It’s luxurious to be aware of the breath, the rising and passing thoughts and feelings and know that nothing need be done. We get to drop into the simple and profound state of only being.
Savasana is also the first opportunity we have as yoga students to learn the practice of pratyaharaor simply put, withdrawing the senses. It is the beginning of moving from the outer body of flesh and bone and breath (pranayama) to an involuted practice. The next limb is concentration followed by meditation, so you can see how important the foundational skill of withdrawing is. Every other subsequent limb of the eight-limbed system depends on learning how to concentrate and be undisturbed by the information of the senses and our connection to the world outside the boundaries of our own skin.
So ‘No Savasana!’ means no interior exploration. The eight limbed system becomes a stump of a tree with the other limbs removed or stunted.
There is a story in the Shrimad Bhagavatam a collection of thousands of poems about the lives of avatars, yogis and sages. The Sage Narada teaches the confused king, ‘The one direct cause for people’s sorrow is their deluded sense that the body is the Self. One clings to the body as one’s own. Correct and diligent investigation into the nature of the self is the only cure for this malady.’
Savasana is an opportunity to experience sensations, thoughts, feelings, plans and memories as they drift by. Neither developing nor suppressing nor judging them. Witnessing is the term used to describe a state of consciousness that observes the workings of the mind. The ever changing nature of the ‘mind stuff’ points to the changes in the body, to aging, to death. Savasana is corpse pose. In the quieter body, the softer breath and the observed interior activity, we come to know ourselves and our ephemeral life span. This body will die.
There is not much incentive in contemporary life to contemplate death. To accept aging brings us face to face with our ongoing and unconscious repression of the awareness of death and dying. Yoga demands we look the fire-breathing dragon in the mouth. Knowing we are impermanent, provisional and mortal, sweetens the gift of moment to moment observation.
Savasana is dying to something: to oneself, to a habit or an obstacle. It is part of a life-long practice of satya, truth telling. Seeing the body for what it is.
The Astavakra Gita says:
All things arise,
And pass away,
That is their nature.
When you know this…..
…you become still.
It is easy.”