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Starting With Savasana
Submitted by Meg Agnew on October 17, 2012 - 12:07pm
Starting With Savasana
An active friend of mine, who needed to offset all of his aerobic activity with the balanced stretching and strengthening that yoga provides, finally found the yoga class that was right for him. In spite of his ability to endure double centuries on his bike and backpack over multiple mountain passes, the right class for my friend is a gentle one that not only ends with savasana (also called corpse pose or relaxation pose) but begins with it, too. For the first ten minutes of this class, the students lie on their backs with legs slightly apart and feet relaxed outward. Their arms stretch out by their sides and their palms are turned up with the fingers of their hands gently curled in relaxation. For a brief respite before the active part of the session begins, they shift into the experience of just being and breathing.
Relaxation pose is an excellent one in which to practice allowing the moment to be just as it is. We may start out by actively contracting and then releasing our muscles as a way to release tension from them. But as we settle into the pose, we let go of any doing and even any idea of how our body, heart and mind should feel. It’s such a gift to have this opportunity to simply be---aware of just this breath in, or this sensation in the body that’s arising and passing. There’s nothing that needs to be done. We get to drop into the surrender of pure being-ness.
Savasana is often referred to as the “dessert” at the end of class or home practice. It does taste sweet to lie in relaxation after a full and active asana practice. But it can also be savored at other times of the day. Judith Lasater, author of Relax and Renew, often tells participants in her workshops that, in her view, a truly advanced yogin does at least one long savasana every day. She adds that if you don’t think you have enough time in your day to include savasana, that’s when you need it the most.
Savasana is also a wonderful way to start each day. This relaxed lying back position is the one I assume in the early morning hours before I’m completely awake and my mind hasn’t had a chance to create a to-do list. Instead, I’m creating and participating in a form of the “beginning your day with clarity” practice that Phillip describes in Emotional Chaos to Clarity. I take my pillow out from under my head so that my head rests heavily like it does when I’m floating in a body of water. Like when I’m floating, I relax and let my body feel completely supported. Today is a Sunday and I feel the day is also stretched out leisurely before me. I can give this practice some extra time and attention.
As I begin to take deep breaths, I imagine that I’m breathing into the top of my head and with each exhale, streaming relaxed awareness down the length of my body. Each breath is a wave of ease and healing energy. Today I add the visualization of sparkling white light showering me along with my breath. After completing a few breath cycles like this, I open to my body just as it is and begin to listen deeply. In the space that’s been created, individual parts of my body speak up. It’s a little like being at a Quaker Friends meeting. The entire community of my body is either waiting to hear or to be heard with loving attention. Out of the stillness, my right hamstring offers a twinge of soreness into the healing space. I offer it compassionate awareness. That sensation fades and a throbbing in my left foot begins. It’s a bit of discomfort within the whole field of awareness that includes my body and mind at ease. Although it’s not entirely pleasant, I’m willing to open to this throbbing. I sense that it’s an undoing of some kind--a healthy letting go. All throughout this process, I trust that my body is revealing whatever is ready to be held in the light of awareness. Intermittingly, I offer phrases of loving-kindness to my body.
Today, I see that this practice of listening deeply to my body has had a quieting effect on my mind. I offer my mind a few loving-kindness phrases, as well. I say “May you be free of worry and anxiety today.” “May you be free from clinging and ill-will.”
I take a few more moments to connect with my intentions for how I want to live this day---with relaxed awareness, with kindness, and with appreciation for all that life offers. I imagine myself speaking with compassion to my frail and ailing mother in a few hours from now. In response to this visualization of our phone conversation, I actually feel a physical sensation of warmth expand inside my heart center. I visualize myself being relaxed, aware, and welcoming towards the students I will be teaching in a meditation class later this evening. I’m feeling deeply grateful for this opportunity to introduce Insight Meditation to interested others.
I know that when my friend lies down in the savasana at the start of his yoga class, it is also the end of his workday. As we all know, the beginning of one thing usually signals the end of something else. But this reminds me of the Buddhist teaching about the Dharma--- that it’s good in the beginning and in the middle and at the end. Anytime is a great time for savasana, too.