The resting pose at the end of pretty much every yoga sequence, Savasana (pronounced ‘Shavasana’ – the corpse pose), is surprisingly difficult to master. Far harder than a headstand, a complicated balance or an intricate bind.
And yet it’s a crucial pose – said to allow the body to absorb the benefits of the yoga practice, restorative for the mind and body.
Despite appearances, it’s more that just flopping on the ground like you’re dead. Yes, you need to relax your body. Unclench every muscle, let your feet flop out to the side, really become one with the floor. Surrender the weight of your physicality to the forces of gravity. But the key – as in most things – is in the mind.
The mind must stay active, present, sharp. And yet restful. Whereas throughout the yoga practice you’ve been noticing your breath, your muscles, your alignment, in savasana you pay attention to the space in between, the resting, the tingling feeling of nothing – of the absence of movement. You seek out that delicate, exact concentration that sits between thinking and letting your mind drift, and hold it steady on the most subtle of sensations.
So simple and yet so incredibly complicated.
For many years, savasana was a battle in my mind. Without the active, dynamic flow of yoga on which to to pin my focus, the thoughts came flooding back. And as I ostensibly relaxed on my mat, inside my head I was taking up arms, a metaphorical sword and shield, bravely trying to fight off each thought as it arose. Convinced that this was the game – stopping my thoughts dead in their tracks.
And then one day a few years ago, I just got it. My mind finally found where it was meant to be and somehow slipped into place.
I should note that for others – perhaps less Type A than me – the tendency is to drift off to sleep in savasana, rather than to get lost in thought. It’s the same, really – just the other end of the spectrum. Sleep is just as far from the point of this posture as my warrior-like thought fighting.
Yesterday I was settling into savasana at the end of a fantastic Ashtanga class, and I realized what it is: You need to make your mind “body-shaped.” Instead of letting your mind swish around in your head, where we tend to imagine it lives, you need to pull it down into your body, let it flow down your neck and spine, along your arms and your legs. Squish it into your fingers and toes and allow it to pool in your lower back and buttocks. And then let it settle there and observe.
Because when it’s “body-shaped” rather than “head-shaped,” your mind can “think” about your body, rather than your thoughts. It can really notice the release in every muscle, the feeling of the body touching the floor, the slow, rhythmic rising and falling of the chest and abdomen. It can be totally aware of the physical relaxation.
And now I realize – this is true for all mindfulness practice. If you want to be mindful of washing the dishes, you need to make your mind “hands-shaped.” You can’t feel the water on your skin with your head – you need to “think” with your fingers. Same goes for mindful walking, mindful showering – anything you want to do mindfully.
It’s a mental shift that changes more than just change your “point of view” – it changes the very nature of your mind. From being primarily concerned with thoughts and other mental phenomena like emotions, to noticing the changing sensations of the body. As the father of quantum physics Max Planck is quoted as saying:
When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.
It’s a small, conceptual change, but it has tremendous power.
And in case you’re wondering, no – the irony of my mind imagining up blog posts while it’s meant to be down in my body, focusing on savasana is not lost on me.
Stay tuned for natural (to me) continuation of this post: How to Make Your Mind “Baby-Shaped.”