I am reading Tias Little’s new book Yoga of the Subtle Body, A guide to the Physical and Energetic Anatomy of Yoga. In it he makes a surprising suggestion. He says he starts his classes with savasana (corpse pose, or what is often referred to as relaxation).
I love savasana at the end of a practice as a way of integrating everything that just happened, physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically. Coming to stillness after a practice assures I’m not rushing off for the next thing without appreciating what I’ve just been cultivating for the last hour; mainly, a higher level of awareness.
So why would I want to begin with Savasana? Well, it seems so obvious to me now I wonder why I didn’t try it sooner. If the relaxation pose at the end of a session “assures I’m not just rushing off for the next thing without appreciating…”, then practicing it at the beginning could have the same effect.
It has the potential to slow me way down, take me out of the mind set where I’m leaning into the next moment, and landing me in present moment awareness. It invariably will slow me down enough to notice things I’m not usually aware of when I’m on auto-pilot. It gives me an opportunity to listen deeply to my own energies, my physicality, and all of what I have going on at the moment. I think that is a powerful way to begin a practice - fully alive, aware, awake and attuned to my needs, rather than moving through a sequence I have on a sheet of paper or something I’ve memorized.
Even if I am using a sequence, beginning with this deep listening will assure I bring a deeper awareness and sensitivity to the movements, which is something I always strive for in my asana practice. I also think this is key if you are having trouble getting into a groove to practice yoga. The kind of deep awareness that comes in Savasana is exactly the kind you want to bring to a practice. Your entire nervous system switches over to a more relaxed, conscious state.
In his book Tias Little says because the body is fully supported "...a profound stillness and quiescence can penetrate inside. Ultimately, letting go in savasana suggests not a physical death but a spiritual death (maha samadhi) where all traces of a self limited by personality identity drop away and one experiences boundlessness and peace.”
He frequently begins his classes by talking his students through a guided savasana, then guiding a self-inquiry of sorts. He gives a series of questions for them to ask themselves. Typically I start a class in a quiet centering where I might say "Check in to see how you are feeling. Notice what you are feeling and be aware of any special needs you have today.“ But Little is much more specific asking students to notice if they are tired, or restless, heavy or distracted. Whether or not they have specific palpable pain. He directs them to scan "... for any nuance of sensation; that is, notice any tingle or pulsation in your nerves, bloodstream, or fascia." His objective is to help draw awareness inward to the "smallest of sensations" as a way of attuning to the subtle body. He suggests staying for ten minutes before slowly rolling to your side to come out.
Does this make sense or what? I think it makes sense whether or not you practice asana (postures) as your yoga practice. Because no matter how you cut it, yoga is a practice of awareness. And whether you practice it via meditation, concentration, non-harming, study or postures, this little exercise is invaluable.
There will, I’m sure, be times when it is inappropriate to begin in savasana. Like when you are groggy and trying to be awake. Then it might be a better idea to begin your practice with some more vigorous warm-ups or pranayama. But I think there will be plenty of opportunities to give this a try. Even if time is short, the information and awareness you can glean from 10 minutes of conscious effort in savasana, will be invaluable to you in your day. It will potentially touch everything from your posture to your choice of food, words, and actions.
A posture some people seem to think of as indulgent actually can be a vital element in any practice of waking up. What’s your experience with corpse pose? Have you struggled with this posture after a full yoga session? Have you ever started a practice with it? Give it a try and let me know what you learn.