Rosina always says, when we go into Savasana, that this is a pose which, like any other, requires practice. How true! As the year ends and we wind down, I find the inertia of activity takes me and I have to make an effort to rest. My constitution is one that thrives with activity, gets lots of things done. This is all very positive but it is not balanced. When in the past I exhausted myself with this level of activity, I was unable to move and, what is worse, I did not enjoy it. Pranayama and other seated practices changed this. With the breath, I discovered what it means to rest (and you can too, as I will be offering monthly pranayama practices from 2019).
You will see in the resources below that this rest is both a letting go of the practice but also an exercise in equanimity all over. In mind, body and breath. If yoga is integration, union, here it is at its simplest—and of course its hardest.
Resting is important for our sustainable engagement with the world, to be able to be our best selves, how we want to be, to integrate what we have taken in, to let go of what we don’t need any more, to observe, notice and take stock of what is really happening now.
Take some time to yourself at the end of this year. Nature, especially in the global North, is telling us to do so with the long hours of darkness which invite us inwards. This is also a magical journey, deserved by each of us.
Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say that Śavasana is the most difficult pose. Many students thought he was kidding, but once you’ve been practicing for a while, this sentiment rings true. The essence of the pose is to embody complete balance in all directions but also to find equanimity between the state of being completely alert and that of being absolutely relaxed. In more advanced Śavasana, one does not fall asleep, but a calm and removed, yet alert, open feeling pervades the body and mind. In Śavasana, all of the residue within the body, mind, and nervous system has time to be assimilated. Depending on the intensity of the particular practice and non practice circumstances, it may be necessary to hold Śavsana for anywhere from ten to twenty minutes until everything has settled and has been integrated properly.
1. Lie on the back as if in Samasthitiḥ. Lightly stiffen the arms and legs. Roll the shoulders back and down to the floor. Draw the lower tips of the shoulder blades up into the body as the kidney area falls back and widens. Lightly press the back of the head into the floor with the chin a hair’s breadth lower than the eyebrows.
2. Gaze, with the eyes closed, down the line of the nose. Feel the seed of a smile to “empty” the palate, as the breathing pulls the Mūlabandha like a steady flame.
3. This is the formal Taḍagī Mudra pose and should be practiced before dissolving into full Śavasana. Carefully arrange the body so it is symmetrical. Remain for one to five minutes in this position, breathing smoothly. Allow the breath to fine-tune the subtle alignment of the body.
4. Now relax. Let the breath go. Leave everything alone and as it is in the present moment. The mouth releases. The hands and feet release. The eyes soften. The heart floats up, bright and empty. The palms of the hands and the soles of the feet soften. Let the ears relax into listening. The tongue is silent, letting everything be, just as it is.
What I have been pondering
My musings on rest have made me reconnect with a poetic text from David Whyte I encountered a while ago. He has so much soft wisdom. This is what resonated with me from reading it this time (and here is the full text):
In the first state of rest is the sense of stopping, of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being. In the second, is the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body’s un-coerced and un-bullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself. In the third state is a sense of healing and self-forgiveness and of arrival. In the fourth state, deep in the primal exchange of the breath, is the give and the take, the blessing and the being blessed and the ability to delight in both. The fifth stage is a sense of absolute readiness and presence, a delight in and an anticipation of the world and all its forms; a sense of being the meeting itself between inner and outer, and that receiving and responding occur in one spontaneous movement.
David’s writing on rest, like Richard Freeman’s, is an invitation to practice. The result, feeling rested, is a state where, he says, we are ready for the world but not held hostage by it. Rested, we take control of who we are and what space we occupy in the world. Ready for the new year.
I wish you a wonderful rest this Christmas
and a beautiful start to 2019.
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