Shavasana, or Corpse pose, is considered one of the more difficult asanas. Despite its effortless appearance, many find it a challenge to be, effortless. The struggle of corpse pose is relaxing. There’s nothing to DO in corpse pose, the goal of the asana is to lay down and be. Organized relaxing time can be a challenge, because how do you go from not resting, to resting? How do you allow yourself to turn your thoughts on and off? How do you become comfortable being still?
Corpse pose has you on your back, face up, arms and legs splayed out, palms up, a prone mountain pose. This is a vulnerable position, and can be a challenge to get into and maintain. While part of the expedition of corpse pose is meditative contemplation of death, and imagining your body in that state, it’s ok to use props and blankets to help feel safer in shavasana. Just like any other pose, you have to find what works for you and your practice.
Before you start envisioning yourself as a corpse, you have to be comfortable as your living, breathing self. Once you find a laying down position that works for you, you then work your way up your body, starting with your feet, tightening and relaxing muscles to physically feel yourself relaxing. You know what it is to be engaged (tightening muscles) and then you know what it is to release that feeling (relaxing muscles). This helps prepare you physically for stillness. Once you‘ve worked your way up your body, including your face, try to allow your body to be. You’ve gone through each area and now your done with it, your body can just rest. It takes practice, but try not to fidget in corpse pose, this is where the mental preparation comes into play.
You‘re laying there, having gone up the body and hopefully relaxed yourself to the point where you’re ok being still in your body, but all these thoughts keep coming up. How long has it been? Will I be here forever? This floor is uncomfortable! Or maybe you’re worried about what’s going to happen after class (appointment of some kind?) or even about what’s happening or happened during class, whether good or bad. All these thoughts, any thoughts that are outside of the present moment are distractions. It’s your mind distracting you from relaxing. The good news is, you’re in control of your thoughts, and can train yourself to relax, it just takes practice.
Training yourself to relax and let go of, or just ignore, distracting thoughts is a process. As great as it would be to just say “bye thoughts!” and have them stop, it’s a more arduous process. It’s also a personal process, there are general ways that help that we’re going to go through, but what ultimately helps you feel at ease may be something that isn’t discussed or that you discover through trial and error. Yoga is all about discovering and uncovering yourself, allow the work to happen. Some general tips for mentally calming yourself; find your breath. Breathe in through your nose and out through your nose. Slow your breath initially, focus in on creating the calm, then as you get more relaxed you can allow yourself to breathe naturally, without controlling your breath. Instead of thinking that you have to relinquish all thoughts, revise your thoughts. Try to tell yourself, “I am inhaling” as you breathe in, and “I am exhaling” as you breathe out. This gives you something to DO and focus on as you’re learning how to rest.
Shavasana, or corpse pose, is the big sigh at the end of a yoga practice. It’s the opportunity for you to revel in what you’ve accomplished during class, as well as a chance to refresh your mind and body for what’s next. Our bodies need work and our bodies need rest, and we’re learning how to interact with both. Be kind to yourself as you’re learning how to relax and rest. Breathe and Be.