The Beauty of a Body at Rest

If you’ve practiced Yoga for long enough you will have heard the teacher at some point say that Savasana is “the hardest pose.” After precariously perching yourself on your hands or shavasanahead, I’m sure you may laugh at this idea, but as my own practice evolves I’ve experienced the profound resonance and challenges of this final pose. Savasana (corpse pose) has developed in many practices to resemble an exploding starfish for the body and a “check-out” time for the mind. This truly short-changes you and all the effort you put in before this fateful pose.

In the traditions of an Asana practice, Savasana is the final posture, yes, always. Even if you’ve practiced for years and decades, the end of your Asana practice is marked by laying on your back on the floor, and if getting down to the floor isn’t an option for you then there are variations available but the essence is the same.

What is that essence?

To rest the body in its optimal orientation so that physical, mental and spiritual integration can take place.

There are a plethora of benefits when you take the time to set your body up in a well-supported and aligned Savasana. Here are the three core experiences I’ve come to value from this final resting posture.

  1. The activity of your nervous system is diminished. Simply put, when you get comfortably still your nervous system has less outside data to regisupta-baddha-konasanaster, analyze and respond to. Even if Supta Baddha Konasana would feel “good” at the end of your practice, Savasana will serve your nervous system better. Even though you may feel super fantastic after all those arm balances, back bends and twists, your nervous system seeks the rest of stillness and the opportunity to bring joints and bones into line.
  1. This leads to feelings of relaxation and an experience of trust in the energetic body. Trust lives as the antithesis to fear; it’s our response to being unrooted. Laying on the ground, in a rested state increases feelings of trust in the body. Trust with the world around you, trust with yourself, and trust with the practice.
  1. Once the physical body and the energetic body blend in an experience of balance and ease then the mind can settle. It is in the restful state of Savasana that the mind shifts to increase the amount of Alpha waves. Alpha waves are the brain’s state in meditation and deep relaxation. This state allows the mind to wander freely in ease. This wandering is a good thing as it allows for processing of events, emotions and ideas without intellectual resistance. Through this state you are more easily able to put life events into perspective and even experience spontaneous inspiration and flashes of brilliance.

So, next time you come to the end of your practice and contemplate laying in some alternate shape, honour what you have worked so hard for and lay your body down with conscious placement. Laying with your legs at a natural angle from the hips and your arms at an angle that is comfortable for the shoulders is ideal. Wide legs and arms, just like confined legs and arms, are not neutral experiences for the nervous system. The head is positioned so that the neck muscles are able to relax and are not straining to have the head on the floor. The more you practice with mindful alignment in Savasana the more you will begin to experience the subtleties of your body, mind and spirit.

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Moon of Long Nights

In this closing month of the year we have entered into a time of the year’s deepest darkness. We are approaching the winter solstice that marks the longest night and the shift into growing light. According to some First Nations traditions, this time is marked by the Moon of Long Nights. A time when our biology is asking us to go in, to hibernate and conserve our energy.

“These days an appreciation of the season’s darkness and hope is lost in the rush of holiday plans, of shopping and purchasing, of making a list and checking it twice. It is not part of our cultural consciousness to let ourselves be in the dark, to meditate upon the darkness, to listen, to pray. Instead we rush headlong into the light. Many of us zoom past the solstice in a rush of last-minute to-dos, and arrive exhausted on Christmas morning, glad to have survived the ordeal once again…On the Moon of Long Nights, may we begin to be a little more comfortable with the dark, and the mystery it symbolizes. May we remember to sleep, and to rest, to dream, and to talk to the Divine. May we remember that there is no such thing as human perfection and show humility in the presence of all the things that surpass understanding. May we remember that both illness and difference can be gifts, or can carry within them gifts of very great measure. Let us not be too arrogant to accept the gift, or to offer the giver a place at our table. And may that table be full of nourishing foods, with plenty to share.” (Jessica Prentice in her book Full Moon Feast)

As you head toward the final days of 2015 allow yourself this time to go deep within. Revel in the darkness so that you may reflect on the unfolding of the past 12 months. Be still and quiet to hear your hearts wisdom for the coming year.

Here is a full 30 minute Yoga Nidra practice to help you tap into your creative dreams for the year ahead.

Karma: To be of service

There is a path of yoga called Karma Yoga. This practice is not one of attuning the physically body through asana or strengthening the pranic body through breath-work. This path is one of devotional service. This is the practice I explore every time I visit Ishtadev Niwas Ashram near Kimberly, BC.

What many people don’t realize is that an ashram is not the property of its guru but of all those who choose to let it be a part of their world. An ashram is a yogi’s opportunity to practice all aspects of a yogic life including Karma Yoga: selfless service. Each person who’s experienced the teachings and trainings of an ashram is forever a part of the livelihood of the space.

To me this sounds like the innate relationship we have to our world. We are the shepherds of the spaces we have been gifted to experience. There is no one to ask for help, no one to tell us what needs to be done. We are to care for the various environments that have held space for us in our lives.

This is the reciprocal nature of all life.

Karma Yoga is the essence of all relationships and brings us to our enlightened state faster than any other route. To be of service is to be enlightened.

Be Still

“Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness. It is the I Am that is deeper than name and form.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Life is motion. On a physical level, to completely cease all motion is to die. Only at death are we motionless, or still. So what does it mean to “be still” when we are holding a posture, seated in meditation or even in deep sleep?

We never truly render our bodies still nor should we for complete stillness equates to death of the body.

Through the act of becoming still something shift. To reach a still state we must embrace slowing down. Like torpor experienced by hibernating animals, we begin to slow our bodies and minds down but not with the intention of turning away from the world. Coming toward stillness is coming into direct experience with the world around us.

Stillness is often described by the well-loved metaphor of stilling ones mind as though a pond, free of ripples. Even though the top may appear perfectly still underneath life is swimming. But in the act of the winds ceasing to blow and the disturbances on the surface ceasing to occur we are able to see more clearly through the waters. In the act of stilling we are able to come into a closer experience with our true nature.

In the experience of our energetic body, motion creates vibration. Sound is a result of vibration. Once the vibrations are stilled or slowed there is less sound. In the silence we are able to hear. We can understand sound as the information our ears receive but there is the physical sound or the vibrations our body receives as well as the vibratory information our eyes receive.  In slowing ourselves toward stillness we are reducing the many forms of vibration within our experiences.  As this form of all encompassing silence is reached we are able to experience the world around and within free from the disturbances of all the vibrations.

 “Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behaviour. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise.” ~Eckhart Tolle

In the experience of slowing down there is a subtle sensation of expanding.  Coming toward a still state brings with it deep experience and alignment. To bring oneself into stillness is to bring one self into alignment with the movement of the natural world or what some call flow. To be still is to move in sync with the universe.