by Laura McCorry
As a new yoga teacher, I was in love with everything yoga. I wanted to soak it all in and learn as much as I possibly could so that when my training was over, I could go out into the world and help people move and feel better in their bodies.
I diligently memorized all the Sanskrit names and their English translations. I practiced saying both names whenever I taught a class (and I’m a bit embarrassed to think how many Sanskrit names I’ve now forgotten). But there was one pose, one name, for which I always used the Sanskrit: savasana.
After yoga and namaste, it’s probably the most-recognized Sanskrit word, so you can get away with not saying its translation. I’ve used “final relaxation” to explain savasana in many classes. But here are the words I’ve avoided saying for so many years:
I was reminded of the proper translation this week. I had just finished leading a restorative yoga class and everyone in the room was lying down on their mats, not moving. This is the most relaxing part of yoga, the culmination of the previous hour and the time when the body receives the greatest benefit from the practice.
And I remembered that savasana meant corpse pose and I felt a chill go up my spine to see a room full of people, essentially “practicing” death. In that moment, I realized how much easier it was for me to be the teacher, to sit on my mat and stay “awake” so I could guide them out of savasana when the time was right.
My level of comfort with death ranges from “not very” to “nope, this is not even a little bit okay.” And I know I’m not alone. Our culture pushes death outside the realm of public discourse. We cover it up in medical jargon and leave death in the hands of hospice and the funeral home – anything to create some distance between us, the living, and the-thing-we-fear-above-all- fears.
So there’s something profoundly radical about the practice of yoga ending each session with the practice of death.
It flies in the face of popular culture which would rather pay attention to the youngest, newest, brightest thing under the sun. Which helps explain why savasana at some of the trendier, more corporate-feeling yoga studios can be so short – sometimes no more than two minutes.
How long savasana should last is a matter of debate in the yoga world, but the goal is long enough for you (your essence/spirit/soul) to surrender you (the body/mind). To truly practice corpse pose, you must recognize your Self as separate from your body. This acknowledgement can take years to manifest because we are very attached to our bodies in both a literal and psychological sense.
One of yoga’s primary tenets is the yama of non-attachment, aparigraha. It is natural for us to cling to things, to hold on tight to the people we love and the experiences of our body. But yoga teaches that You are not your body. In order to be free, to experience samadhi, or union with the divine, you must let go. Surrender. And yes, even practice death.
I believe that fear and discomfort can only ever hold us back from the fullness of life. We are meant to be alive. We are meant to fully enjoy this beautiful world and to live abundantly. I hope that over time, this practice of yoga continues to mold me, body, mind and spirit until I can one day acknowledge death without fear. Until the practices of living and dying can peacefully coexist that I might move with greater ease through this experience of life. And I wish the same for you.
Yoga and Laura had an on-again-off-again relationship from 2004 until 2009 when they decided to move in together and there’s been no looking back since. Passionate about both yoga and writing, Laura loves to introduce others to the joys and benefits of yoga and healthy living.