Every night, if even for a moment, when your body hits your bed and your head is cradled in your pillow you are in “Shavasana”, corpse pose. You feel your lungs fill, and then empty, fully, on a sigh that takes all the pressures from the day and expels them into the safe, transformative powers of the night. Embrace this transformation. Accept the ‘small death’ that accompanies this pose. Release within it the life that does not serve, and allow yourself to be reborn with the sun. Make it a great day… you deserve it. In service and balance, KaylaB (the Shakti Shaman)
There are many different ways to practice interiorization in Shavasana. Here are four approaches, each of which deals with successively more subtle points of focus: the body, the senses, the breath and the mind itself. Any one of these practiced alone would be sufficient, or you may combine two or more for longer holdings.
Starting with the feet and working your way to the head, use suggestion to soften and release the different parts of the body.
Eventually, you learn how to voluntarily initiate relaxation, but initially it may take the use of guided imagery to encourage the muscles to relax. Here are some suggestions:
• Silently name each body part and imagine the breath flowing directly into that body part. Think of the body part as being darker or in shadow and imagine that the breath brings light into the muscles.
• Alternatively, you can think of the breath as dissolving the tension like sugar dissolving in water. With each exhalation the tension flows out of the body.
• After naming the body part, imagine it getting heavier and heavier with each exhalation and sinking into the floor.
• After naming the body part, imagine it melting as if it were snow melting in the winter sun.
• Imagine the body were a sack of grain. For each body part, visualize rips forming in the sack and the grain pouring out onto the floor.
• Imagine the body as a suit of clothes falling through the air in slow motion and touching the ground, body part by body part. As each part touches the floor, all the wrinkles fall out of the fabric.
Sensory withdrawal begins with relaxation of the physical sense organs. This softens their attachment to the outside world, preparing them to turn inwards. Sometimes this can be a bit nebulous for the inexperienced practitioner to grasps. Releasing specific parts of the face can assist in the release of the nearby sense organs.
The sense of touch resides in the skin. While softening the muscles of the body, pay special attention to the skin, allowing it to soften and release as well. This has the added benefit of calming the nervous system directly, as there is a connection between the skin cells and the nerves: nerves, skin and brain all emerge from the same embryonic cells in the womb.
The senses of taste and smell can be released by addressing the mouth and nose:
• Soften the tip of the tongue and allow it to detach itself from the roof of the mouth.
• Release the tongue from the tip to the root, near the back of the throat.
• Release the roof of the mouth and the back of the throat.
• Soften upwards from there behind the nose and into the nostrils.
• Soften the bridge of the nose and the sinuses.
The sense of hearing can be released by softening the jaw and the ear canal:
• Soften the chin and the jaw.
• Soften the hinges of the jaw.
• Soften the ear canal in and forward towards the eyes.
• Soften the inner ear.
The sense of sight can be released by softening the temples, the muscles around the eyes and the eyeballs themselves:
• Soften the temples. Allow them to deflate and sink inwards.
• Soften the eyebrows, the cheek bones and the bridge of the nose.
• Soften the muscles around the eyes.
• Soften the eyeballs and allow them to sink down past the temples.
• Soften the backs of the eyes and the optic nerve. moving back into the skull.
According to yogic philosophy there is one more sense, the mind. The mind, as opposed to consciousness or thoughts, is the part of you that organizes all the senses and mediates between consciousness and the outside world. To release the mind, we have to address the brain directly:
• Soften the skull.
• Soften the brain itself.
• Allow the brain to detach itself from behind the forehead and let it sink down to rest on the back of the skull.
• Allow the front of the brain to settle on the back of the brain.
• Soften the individual brain cells and allow them to deflate and sink towards the floor.
With the body relaxed and the senses turned inwards, it is now possible to become aware of the inner spaces of the body and the movement of the breath. There are two ways to think of the breath, either as the mechanism of breathing or as the flow of breath.
In the first, we can either observe the movement of the ribcage and belly or the passage of air through the nostrils. Let us look at the ribcage first:
• Bring the awareness into the inhalations and exhalations.
• Observe what moves as you inhale, what moves as you exhale.
• Observe the expansion of the ribcage as you inhale.
• Observe the release of the belly as you exhale.
• Observe the spreading of the diaphragm as you inhale.
• Observe the release and resetting of the diaphragm as you exhale.
• Allow each inhalation to emerge seamlessly out of the exhalation that precedes it.
• Allow each cycle of breath to flow seamlessly into the cycle that follows it.
Even though the reclined position is not the ideal posture of meditation, it is still possible to practice a detached attitude towards the thoughts that fill the mind:
• Observe each individual thought as it arises.
• Do not categorize the thoughts. Simple acknowledge them for what they are. Think of them as words or images projected on a screen.
• As the mind wanders, gently acknowledge that it has done so and bring your awareness back to the thoughts flowing across the mind.
• As the mind becomes engaged in the thoughts, gently acknowledge that this has happened, release the thought and allow it to proceed on its way.
• As the mind begins to calm itself, you may find that the thoughts become a little less frequent a little less insistent. Start to become aware of the moments of silence between each thought.
The Effort Of Effortlessness
Shavasana is a very demanding pose to practice. It has the potential to take us right up to the very limits of conscious awareness. It is as easy to think it unnecessary and to avoid it as it is to allow it to become nothing more than a nap. It demands of us both diligence and finesse. Too long in the pose and the mind may become dull and even lose consciousness. Too little time, or time spent wrestling with our thoughts, and the pose is almost useless. And yet, the benefits are many and profound. I urge you to give the pose the attention it deserves. Experiment with the different set-ups and become familiar with their effects. You will find different variations appropriate for different practices, different times and different states of mind. Experiment, too, with the different methods of turning inward to find what works for you so that you may reap the benefits of this wonderful pose.
1. Bourne, E. J.,(1995) “‘The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook – A step by step program for curing yourself of extreme anxiety, panic attacks and phobias”’, MJF Books, New York.
2. De Michelis, E. (2005) “A History of Modern Yoga: Patañjali and Western Esotericism,”” Continuum Books, London.