How to Practice Corpse Pose
In the sutras, the Buddha spoke of four meditation postures: walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. In the following practice, Octavia Raheem breaks down the powerful but often overlooked Savasana or “Corpse Pose” – the quintessential lying meditation posture.
I remember the first yoga class I took. It was hot; it was sweaty. We worked and worked. We pushed and pushed. We have tried and tried. At the end of the pose, we came to the floor and were asked to simply lie flat and close our eyes. The teacher called this pose Savasana. He said it translated to “Corpse Pose”. A place where we die, where we end, a place that promised rebirth and a new beginning. He also said it was the most important pose, or asana, in all of yoga. I was completely puzzled. I don’t remember much of what he said after that moment because I couldn’t help but think of how it was possible to twist, turn, bend and contort my body, struggle with my muscles and bones to do the “right form”, only to be told by my teacher that “lying on the floor and being still” is the most important thing you can do.
As I lay there, tossing that thought around in my mind, I heard one last perplexing thing. He said, “Savasana is also probably the most difficult pose you will encounter.” After class, I hastily packed all my things and ran to my teacher. Exasperated, I asked, “But why is Savasana so important? I mean, we don’t even do anything in this pose. Nothing is happening.” He smiled and said, “Keep practicing and come to understand it for yourself.” That was 17 years ago.
Descriptions of Savasana as an asana date back to Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th-century text in which many of the earliest references to yoga postures that are still practiced today are found. It is the only pose among all the asanas that is included in each sequence, a clue to its importance. I did not know the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in my early days of yoga, and even if I had done it, I would still have been confused by the “no-do” postures, as I had come to associate yoga with movement and action. Despite the fact that this is, in fact, the only pose included in every class, it took me years to become curious enough to return to my first teacher’s words about Savasana: “It’s the most important . . . . It’s difficult. It was then that I truly became a student of this posture and traveled to the heart of this way of ending.
After a long-awaited and hoped-for pregnancy that ended in a painful miscarriage, I didn’t know what to do with myself or my body. I remember going to a class, telling the teacher that I was in pain and she suggested that I lie down and breathe. Savasana. I knew that I couldn’t practice physically, and I also knew that I had to be in a room with other people. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t move a muscle, yet the first few moments of Savasana were a mental and emotional battle. I wanted to move. I wanted to do something. I needed to fix it. Fix me. Fix my body. Fixing the part I perceived was so broken that I couldn’t even hold a pregnancy, a hope, a dream.
And then it happened – my body stopped clinging. I cried. I surrendered to the earth beneath me. I allowed myself to feel the end, the end of this excitement, the end of this waiting, the end of this pregnancy, the end of the part of me that innocently yearned to be a mother and wanted everything to be so easy.
Savasana both challenged me and saved space for my purposes that day. Savasana has become one of my beloved teachers.
Eventually, I came to understand Savasana as the practice of death, and every ending, big or small, is a kind of death. In Savasana we practice the death of ego, the death of grasping, and the death of all aversion to reality as it is. In Savasana, we train ourselves to recognize that for now, there is nothing more to do. I have also learned that when we are particularly activated by fear, worry, or end-anxiety, it is better for us to shelter and support ourselves in Savasana instead of just lying down. In this way we create a place to hold, cradle and support through and in this most powerful and powerful pose and place. This end. Savasana.
From Take a break, rest, be by Octavia Raheem © 2022 by Octavia F. Raheem. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.
A yoga mat, 6-8 blankets, a bolster or sofa cushion, cozy socks, a journal, and writing materials
How to configure
DURATION: 5 to 15 minutes
Create a landing spot. Lay out a yoga mat and layer two blankets folded in half on your mat. It gives you a soft place to land. Then lie down. Place a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees to encourage the femurs to descend deeper into your pelvis, relieving tension in the iliopsoas, the composite muscle that is the strongest hip flexor. The pelvis will rest more heavily against the floor because of this. If you want to feel more comfortable, wrap a blanket around your ankles. Place a folded blanket over your stomach to release tension and weigh down the hips even more. Place blankets under your arms and hands so they don’t touch the floor. Rest your arms at your sides, palms down.
If your upper back and shoulders are rolled up towards your heart and don’t rest easily on the floor, place a blanket or folded towel under your head, neck and the tips of your shoulders so you feel supported throughout. from the torso to your neck and head. Your chin should be perpendicular to the floor and your throat should be open and comfortable. Cover your whole body with a blanket or two if you like.
Once you’re there
Start by keeping your eyes open and observing how your body feels. Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.
Do this 3-5 times, allowing yourself to notice how and where you feel. If you feel worried or agitated, I invite you to keep your eyes open a little longer or even for the entire duration of the posture. Sometimes closing our eyes immediately takes us on a trip to Worry Land if we’ve already been a bit upset. If you keep your eyes open, let them be soft and focused on one spot. If you’re ready to go, close your eyes.
Either way, with each exhale let the earth beneath you hold every part of your body fully. Once you feel completely connected to the earth, feel that whatever is in your mind can also be held by the earth and give it to her. Once you feel more space between each thought, bring your awareness to the center of your chest. Feel and notice. If something weighs on your heart, know that the earth can hold it too. Exhale deeply and give the burdens of your heart to the earth. With awareness in your own heart, offer an intention or a prayer for courage and support whatever end you face.
Rest your awareness and intention on the waves of your breath.
Stay in the pose for 5 to 15 minutes. When you come out, bend your knees, roll to your right side, and rest in a fetal position.
We move from Savasana to the fetal position. Journal or sketch for 2-3 minutes.
Reconnect to your intention or your prayer. hold the words Take a break, rest, be to your heart. Open a page. If you’re struggling to cope with an ending, let a message of support find you.
As we slowly leave Savasana, we intentionally come back and explore our body, heart and mind as if they were new because after Savasana they are. It reminds us that every ending turns into a beginning at some point.