In the sutras, the Buddha spoke of four meditation postures: walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. In the following practice, Octavia Raheem breaks down the powerful but often overlooked Savasana or “Corpse Pose” —the quintessential lying-down meditation posture.
I remember the first yoga class I ever took. It was hot; it was sweaty. We worked and worked. We pushed and pushed. We tried and tried. At the end of the pose, we came to the ground and were instructed to simply lie flat and close our eyes. The teacher called this pose Savasana. He said it translated to “Corpse Pose.” A place where we die, we end, a place that promised rebirth and a new beginning. He also said it was the most important pose, or asana, in all of yoga. I was completely perplexed. I don’t remember much of what he said after that point because I couldn’t stop thinking about how it was possible to twist, turn, bend, and contort my body, to fight with my muscles and bones to make the “just right shape,” only to be told by my teacher that “lying on the ground and being still” is the most important thing you can do.
As I lay there turning this idea over in my mind, I did hear one final perplexing thing. He said, “Savasana is also likely the most difficult pose you will encounter.” After class, I hurriedly packed all of my things and ran up to my teacher. Exasperated, I asked, “But why is Savasana so important? I mean, we aren’t even doing anything in that pose. Nothing is happening.” He smiled and said, “Keep practicing and come to understand it for yourself.” That was 17 years ago.
Descriptions of Savasana as an asana date back to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a 15th-century text in which we find many of the earliest references to the yoga poses that are still practiced today. It is the only pose among all the asanas that is included in every sequence, a hint to its importance. I didn’t know about the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in my earliest yoga days, and even if I had, I still would have been confused by the “non-doing” postures, as I’d come to associate yoga with movement and doing. Despite making the connection that it is, in fact, the one pose included in every class, it took years for me to become curious enough to return to my first teacher’s words about Savasana: “It’s the most important. . . . It’s challenging.” It was then that I actually became a student of this posture and journeyed into the heart of this way of ending.
After a much longed-for and hoped-for pregnancy ended in a painful miscarriage, I didn’t know what to do with myself or my body. I remember going to a class, telling the teacher I was in pain, and her suggesting that I lie down and breathe. Savasana. I knew I couldn’t physically practice, and I also knew I needed to be in a room with other people. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t move one muscle, yet the first moments in Savasana were a mental and emotional fight. I wanted to move. I wanted to do something. I needed to fix it. Fix me. Fix my body. Fix the part I perceived was so broken that I couldn’t even hold a pregnancy, a hope, a dream.
And then it happened—my body stopped gripping. I cried. I surrendered to the earth beneath me. I allowed myself to feel the end, the end of that excitement, the end of that expectation, the end of that pregnancy, the end of the part of me who innocently longed to be a mother and wanted it all to be so easy.
Savasana both challenged me and held space for my endings that day. Savasana became one of my Beloved Teachers.
Ultimately, I have come to understand Savasana as the practice of death, and every ending, big or small, is some kind of death. In Savasana, we practice the death of the ego, death of grasping, and death of all aversion to reality as it is. In Savasana, we practice recognizing that for now, there’s nothing left to do. I’ve also learned that when we are particularly activated with fear, worry, or anxiety related to endings, it’s best that we cocoon and support ourselves in Savasana instead of simply lying down. In that way, we create a place to be held, cradled, and supported through and in this most potent and powerful pose and place. This ending. Savasana.
From Pause, Rest, Be by Octavia Raheem © 2022 by Octavia F. Raheem. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc.
What You Need to Practice
A yoga mat, 6–8 blankets, one bolster or couch cushion, cozy socks, a journal, and something to write with
How to Set Up
TIME: 5–15 minutes
Create a landing place. Put down a yoga mat and layer two blankets folded in half on top of your mat. This gives you a soft place to land. Then lie down. Place a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees to encourage the thighbones to drop deeper into your pelvis, relieving tension in the iliopsoas, the composite muscle that is the strongest hip flexor. The pelvis will rest more heavily against the ground because of this. If you would like to feel more tucked in, wrap a blanket around your ankles. Place a folded blanket over your belly to release tension and weigh the hips down even more. Place blankets under your arms and hands so that they aren’t touching the floor. Rest your arms by your sides, palms facing down.
If your upper back and shoulders are rolled toward your heart and don’t rest easily on the floor, place a folded blanket or towel underneath your head, neck, and tips of your shoulders so you feel support all the way up the torso to your neck and head. Your chin should be perpendicular to the floor and your throat should feel open and at ease. Cover your entire body with a blanket or two if you would like.
Once You Are in It
Begin by keeping your eyes open and noticing how your body feels. Scan your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, from the tips of your toes to the top of your head.
Do this 3–5 times, allowing yourself to notice what you feel and where you feel it. If you are feeling worried or agitated, I invite you to keep your eyes open just a little while longer or even for the duration of the posture. Sometimes, immediately closing our eyes takes us on a trip to Worry Land if we are already a little revved up. If you keep your eyes open, let them be soft and focused on one place. If you are ready to drop in, close your eyes.
Either way, with each exhalation allow the earth beneath you to fully hold each part of your body. Once you feel completely connected to the ground, sense that whatever is in your mind can also be held by the earth and give it to her. Once you feel more space between each thought, take your awareness to the center of your chest. Feel and notice. If something is weighing on your heart, know that the earth can hold that as well. Exhale deeply and give your heart’s burdens to the earth. With awareness at your own heart, offer up an intention or prayer for courage and support with whatever endings you are facing.
Rest your awareness and intention on the waves of your breath.
Stay in the pose for 5–15 minutes. When coming out, bend your knees, roll onto your right side, and rest in a fetal position.
After the Pose
We roll from Savasana to the fetal position. Journal or draw for 2–3 minutes.
Reconnect to your intention or prayer. Hold the words Pause, Rest, Be at your heart. Open to a page. If you are having trouble facing an ending, allow a supportive message to find you.
As we slowly move out of Savasana, we intentionally return and explore our body, heart, and mind as though they are new because, after Savasana, they are. This reminds us that every ending transforms into a beginning at some point.
Start your day with a fresh perspective
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.