An interviewer recently posed this question to me:
“What is the toughest yoga pose?”
What a question!
So many yoga poses are challenging. The most advanced call for a perfect confluence of strength, flexibility, alignment and focus. I often feel wistful and envious of the graceful models on the covers of "Yoga Journal," who smile in the kinds of impressive poses I can do only in my dreams. As for the wild contortions seen in YouTube videos and myriad yoga clothing advertisements? Well, maybe in my next life.
Yet one of the most challenging poses in my experience as a practitioner and a teacher is savasana. Yes, corpse pose — the one where you lie quietly on the floor at the end of practice, eyes closed, limbs outstretched and relaxed.
It’s counterintuitive, I know. Even so, in my experience savasana is among the most difficult and essential poses in the practice of whole yoga (not just the physical postures in asana, but all eight limbs.)
Savasana gives you the opportunity to experience some of the richest benefits yoga offers: self-awareness, clarity and absorption. The challenge of savasana speaks to learning to quiet the mind and developing the ability let go. It is a practice of withdrawing the senses (pratyahara), one of the ways we can consistently find internal peace.
The qualities called for in savasana pose can be especially challenging in our crazy, chaotic, go-go-go-faster culture. This was underscored in a blog published this week by my friend Becky Robinson, a social media guru who runs a business called Weaving Influence. “I can tell you about what I did this weekend, but it’s what I DIDN’T that is more significant,” she wrote. Because much of her business centers on social media presence, she is typically tethered to electronic gadgets. But last weekend, she let go. She withdrew from the loud demands of her phone and computer for the experience of being, of staying present to her life. The experience was so meaningful that Becky has threatened to make it a monthly event.
When I first began practicing yoga, I considered savasana a waste of my valuable time. I used to sneak out right before the lights were dimmed, figuring I had better ways to invest that time. Yes… all five or ten minutes of it. Looking back, I shake my head at how silly it was to have robbed myself of that small gift of relaxation and release. It wasn't time I had wasted — I discarded the chance for a little oasis of serenity in my demanding schedule.
As a yoga teacher, I smile when I watch people fidget their way through savasana. It’s a smile of recognition, because I still sometimes find it the most challenging pose. As I lie back on the mat, my rebel mind asserts itself. It begins building endless To Do lists, or re-imagines conversations I should have had with So-and-So instead of the ones I had. Sometimes the outside noises irritate or distract me. I start analyzing the sensations in my body.
Happily, these days I can usually quell the rebellion by reconnecting to my breath and returning to the practice of letting go. The practice. This is the value of yoga, and the challenge.
I may never be able to achieve a handstand in the middle of the room or get my legs behind my neck. And that's all right. Even though it will never get me on the cover of Yoga Journal, I can rock a pretty consistent savasana. I'm getting better at the most challenging pose.