One of the most misunderstood poses in yoga is savasana – corpse pose. Lying still, doing nothing, just being and observing the moment, staying aware and allowing the world to do what it is going to do – it is extremely challenging. It’s hard to truly let go physically after working hard and in the middle of a strange room closely surrounded by other people. Then mentally, trying to keep the mind focused and aware of the moment. As an instructor, it’s interesting to watch the class while in savasana. There is always a lot of twitching, people looking at their watches wondering how much longer, tapping arms and legs, and looking around. Some don’t even try to relax, they add in stretches or just walk out. Even after explaining the purpose of savasana, some still think they have better things to do. And maybe they really do. But, most likely, the Drunk Monkey Mind has taken over.
What is a Drunk Monkey Mind? Picture a drunk monkey swinging from branch to branch. The monkey is here and there, randomly flying about. Our thoughts do the same thing. One thought leading to the other, the thoughts getting louder and louder until we’re completely distracted and unaware of anything that is actually happening. During a yoga practice, the Drunk Monkey Mind is the most observable in savasana. This is because we have nothing on which to focus our thoughts. When the drunk monkey thoughts appear, we are no longer in the moment, our bodies stop relaxing and savasana seems like a waste of time. And at that point, it really is.
So what to do? Remember that savasana is a yoga pose just like any other. It requires concentration. It requires practice. It requires patience. The pose looks easy but it’s very hard. It’s yin and yang to the extreme.
Here are some ideas that I like to use while practicing savasana:
1. Savasana is not about daydreaming, sleeping, remembering, planning, spacing-out, or creating visions. It is simply about being in the moment and observing the moment – which is focused awareness – which is meditation. Being in the moment is easy when you have something to do, like a challenging pose or anything else that requires your concentration. But think of the physical yoga practice as training wheels. The poses keep our minds on track and steady. Then, in savasana, we try to keep that awareness without the pose – without the wheels. That’s usually when our thoughts fly off course and become drunk monkeys.
2. If you’re having trouble quieting the mind, try focusing on the breath. Our breath is always in the moment, it’s always happening right now. Feel the coolness of the inhale and notice the warmth of the exhale. Try to keep your awareness with the flow both in and out. Yes, this is another form of training wheels – any guided meditation is. But guided meditations are not as powerful of training wheels as a physically challenging yoga pose. They can be used as a gentle step towards unassisted awareness.
3. When you’ve realized that you are daydreaming (and you will), don’t get frustrated, just start again. What do we do with any other pose that might prove to be difficult? We relax and start over. Do the same thing with savasana. Come back to the breath, settle and enjoy. No worries.
4. Realize that you are not your thoughts. Sometimes strange thoughts come up during savasana and it’s easy to worry about what they mean. They don’t mean anything. They are blabber created by your mind to try and distract or entertain. Your mind is bored. It’s like a child wanting attention. But you, the real you, is one step deeper inside and you are separate from your thoughts. One image that I love is that your mind is a perfect blue sky and your thoughts are the clouds. In savasana, we are trying to let go of the clouds and go deeper into the sky.
5. Don’t give up. If you find savasana boring and/or frustrating, look at it like a challenge. You can multi-task and complete 50 things in an hour… But can you relax for 5 minutes? If you can’t, that might show an imbalance in your life. We’re used to the go-go-go lifestyle but that catches up to us and then we can’t let-go. Then we can’t relax or sleep or enjoy the moment – any moment – because we’re always thinking. The internal monologue won’t stop. So keep practicing. I guarantee if you keep trying, your body and mind will eventually give in, give up and relax. And that’s the healthiest thing we can do.
6. Yes, savasana means corpse pose. I had one student tell me she didn’t like practicing savasana because she didn’t like thinking about death. Savasana isn’t about death or practicing being dead. But if the name makes you think about death, then use those thoughts to realize the importance of now. We only have the moment. The past is over and the future doesn’t exist. And in savasana, we are trying to mentally be in the now. So if anything, savasana is practicing being aware of our lives, of our moment and not existing in a continuous daydream. Use the image of death to more fully live.
Some instructors don’t include savasana with their class, or they only allow a few moments for the pose. I don’t agree with this. A yoga class should be balanced in all aspects. Rest should be just as important as work, mentally and physically. And when you are working, see if you can find rest at the same time. Yin and yang work together continuously – find both and find that balance.