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  • Writer's pictureRon Bushner

Shavasana: One of Yoga's Most Difficult and Advanced Poses

Shavasana: one of yoga’s most difficult and advanced poses

Every yogi has spent more time in Shavasana than any other pose. Even if you do not know the Sanskrit name for other poses, you know Shavasana. This may be because the most common translation for the Sanskrit term Shavasana is Corpse and, in our culture, corpse is a word riddled with resistance and triggers. Corpse pose. Up-dog, down-dog, tree pose are translations of Sanskrit terms that describe the shape of the asanas. Yoga’s relaxation pose is seldom referred to as Corpse pose even though the shape of Shavasana resembles a corpse.

How is the pose we do at the beginning and end of yoga classes like a corpse? A corpse has no life. It also has no muscular tension. That went away with the vitality of life. Soon after the body becomes a corpse, without muscular tension or an active nervous system, the bones are free to settle down however gravity directs them. There is no resistance.

Something like that happens in Shavasana. The body is fully supported. Muscular tension can be released. No muscular engagement is required to hold your body in place. To release all muscular tension is not possible, but even a slight amount of release calms the nervous system and aids the digestive and immune systems. This makes more and deeper release possible. The wandering mind is soothed but remains alert to the expansive calmness inside the body. The inward gaze of your awareness notices the tension that has so far resisted release and you accept it as something to be curious about, something to be explored. Just that awareness is a powerful tool, but when breathing is naturally folded into the experience it becomes even deeper.

The effects of Shavasana can reach deeply into the body and the mind and more. Patanjali says in Sutra 1:2 that yoga is the quieting of the mind-stuff. The mind-stuff is the many layers of often disconnected mental activity that is a large part of our experience most of the time. Shavasana is an opportunity to find stillness beyond the mind-stuff. That stillness is an open, easy space in which you can abide in your alert but still mind. You can be conscious outside the perception of time and space.

Do not expect to find yourself in this blissful state of mind every time you settle into the corpse pose. Shavasana gives you the opportunity to explore this terrain. The more you practice yoga the more you will recognize the path that leads to the gate that opens into the stillness.

Shavasana can be difficult if you are not ready to let go of the tension in your body and mind. You may conclude that it is a boring pose. There is no movement and nothing obvious is happening. If you stay with the pose and identify calmness as something you are experiencing, you have started a process that will take you farther into a calm, open, spacious state of mind. How deep you may go into this space is an unknown.

Shavasana is an advanced pose because it is an opportunity to explore this space, which is the same state of being that yogis experience in seated meditation. The more you practice yoga, whether it is Shavasana, conscious breathing, mantra, study of scripture, or some other yoga practice, the easier it will be to notice the difference between your everyday state of mind and the state of mind that you experience doing yoga. That calm, settled, quiet state of mind is strengthened when we do more yoga and will linger after your practice. It will follow you into your everyday life and will change how you perceive your life. That state of being is the heart of yoga.

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