It’s hard to know whether I am disproportionately preoccupied with death, as it’s not talked about so much among my friends unless we absolutely have to because we’ve been confronted with it in a way that’s unavoidable.
But I definitely think about it a lot – if not on a daily basis, then at least several times a week and in a variety of ways. Sometimes I feel that gripping fear in the pit of my belly that someone I love is going to die and leave me and I’ll just drown in the grief, or often with a real sense of disbelief that my life, the life that I experience every day since the day I was born, in its current format, in fact ME, is not going to last forever and will end, for sure, in the next 80 years at the very latest (and that’s being super optimistic as I’m 42 in a less than a week but who knows what will happen with gerontology in the next few decades, particularly when yoga is added into the mix?).
I suspect that it does lurk actually, always, in the back of everyone’s mind…after all, the knowledge of our own death is a constant certainty that accompanies us as we journey through our lives, however much we may try and ignore it.
Savasana – Shava means corpse in sanskrit. It’s the bit of an asana class I always look forward to most. I find marinating in my own life force after a physical practice extremely relaxing.
“Let gravity support you”, “Feel your lower back melting like butter in a frying pan”, “feel yourself unpeeling layers of yourself, like the layers of an onion, as you sink deeper into relaxation”, “let your limbs be heavy”, “drop into the floor” are just a few of my favourite savasana prompts.
But actually what is happening, as we ease into this very particular feeling state, is that we are being asked to reflect upon our own mortality. “Corpse” is a pretty direct word. Even in the most bog standard, physically focused, philosophy free yoga class it’s there – this confrontation with our own mortality.
In times of loss or grief, the implications of savasana take on a more urgent quality. By practicing being dead, are you understanding where you are not fully alive or not fully honouring your life force by not living to your full potential? Is unnecessary stress, generated by the fluctuations of the mind, clouding your experience of your own life? Becoming separated from oneself, it could be argued, is in fact a form of death itself. And do you know what you actually believe about death and its place in life?
At a time in my life when I was paralysed by grief, I found reading the introduction to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying very helpful. I didn’t get that far because it totally blew my mind but even reading that was enough to help me start recalibrating my beliefs around death so that they were more palatable and – an odd word to use in this context – vibrant.
Belief systems around death are extremely personal. But by practicing savasana, you might find that any resistance to looking straight at death (I mean that metaphorically, not literally) starts being chipped away. And in my opinion, that just one of the positive side effects of savasana.
At a time when we are sometimes too busy even to connect with our loved ones, taking the time to connect with one’s own mortality is a powerful tool for good spiritual health. And it’s just one benefit alongside many others: renewed energy, calmer heartbeat & brain, lowered stress and depression levels, physical relaxation, reduced fatigue, insomnia and lowered blood pressure.
So – play dead at least once a day – it’s good for you!