Our culture keeps death at a distance, fights it, tries to avoid it. It is shrouded in fear and locked away like the antiseptic bodies carried off in coffins and buried deep.
But death is a gift that is born with life. In yoga, we don't ignore the fact, but invite it in to help us live life with awareness. You know how working with a deadline can result in productivity and creativity? Life comes with one of those deadlines. Dare we forget?
The Hatha Yoga posture Shavasana, the Corpse pose, gives us practice at dying. Most people look forward to Shavasana – a pose where you simply lie still – as their favourite part of class. I remember my first Hatha class. I definitely came back the next week, not for the awkward stretches and revelations of my inflexibility, but for the bliss of that final "end relaxation." It was so special, so liberating, that I wanted more.
No one told me at the time that Shavasana means "corpse." It's sort of typical that we don't talk about these things. I'm thinking it may be helpful, though, for students to know that those precious moments at the end of class are related to death. It could help free us from the old "grim reaper" idea, and give death a new image.
Why we enjoy relaxation is obvious. Most of us are carrying around the weight of our worlds, either on our shoulders or some other vulnerable part of our body. Taking time to let go and just be is like being freed of a heavy weight. We can be supported and carried, and openly receptive. The pose offers potential for magical moments – times when we find the blend of deep relaxation and expanded awareness. For me, those moments are unforgettable. It's like entering a vast, luminous space or remembering an ancient and beautiful connection – special, intimate, yet always available.
And there's nothing like coming out of Shavasana, either – that extraordinary feeling of being renewed and refreshed and invigorated.