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Shavasana 101
Page 2: Dissecting the Corpse Pose

Shavasana is actually comprised of several different stages. You start off with the physical. It is interesting to note that many different asanas have their origin in Shavasana, which only emphasizes that it's one of yoga's foundations. One yoga style, in fact - Yoga Nidra - is based around Shavasana. Like any other asana, Shavasana has several different variations. Most people lie on their backs, legs spread comfortably apart, their arms stretched out a couple of feet from their bodies with their palms up - you may hold your hand in a mudra if you like. Those with back problems keep their legs bent up in the air, or put a blanket or bolster under their knees. The shoulder blades are pulled down so that the shoulders are not hunched to the ears. How much do you spread your legs apart? Your arms? It doesn't matter, really. What's important is that the body is in a comfortable position, one that will eventually help you to forget it's there. Next you completely relax the body. You can do that by mentally scanning, from the toes up, for muscle tension and ordering each muscle to relax. Or you can actually tense up each muscle group -- the toes, the right leg, left leg, hips and buttocks, abdomen, etc. -- and let them go, one by one, until your whole body is relaxed. Some areas, like the shoulders, neck, jaw and face may need extra attention. There are many different ways to relax the body in Shavasana; the important thing is to just do it. You have let go of your body when it is so relaxed that you need not be aware of it anymore.

(Article continued below.)

The next step in Shavasana is to focus on the breath. This is not the time for any of those fancy breathing techniques you may have used during the other parts of your yoga practice. Your purpose here is to merely observe the breath -- don't make it do anything. Don't comment on it and don't think about it. Just let it be and passively watch it. Your breathing should come as naturally as your heartbeat. Notice the subtle movements and sounds that happen as you allow your respiratory system to do its job. Feel yourself in tune with the rhythms of your body. Then let that go too.

Now it's just you and the mind. The key to a truly refreshing Shavasana is the ability to completely detach yourself from your thoughts. So watch them the same way you watched your breathing - passively, without comment and without direction. Don't try to stop them, don't force. If you are very diligent and detached with your observation you will notice that the thoughts slow down and maybe even stop. If you have really let go and there is no tightness in your chest, your throat or your head, you will experience just a whisper that hints at true bliss. It's a great feeling. Some instructors may invite you to visualize a pleasant scene to quiet the mind and that is fine, but it's basically masking your thoughts instead of detaching from them. Do what you like - yoga is a very personal thing - but if you are able to develop the skill of detachment when it comes to your mind, you have given yourself a wonderful gift. You have increased your capacity for inner peace and knowing.

When you come out of Shavasana, do it slowly so you can keep a touch of that blissful feeling inside of you. Don't be anxious to get up and get on with your day - it'll wait a few more moments. Bring yourself back into the room where you are practicing. Let the most subtle movements bring you to everyday consciousness - wiggle your toes, brush your thumbs along your fingertips. Awaken your body bit by bit. When you roll over on your side, take your time and take a few deep breaths. When you come to a sitting position be grateful for what you have just experienced. Even if your Shavasana was fraught with tension and an unending parade of thoughts, you learned something and there will be a next time. No one, save a fully awakened yogi, can perform Shavasana to its absolute fullest. But if you devote yourself as fully to this special asana as you do to the rest of your practice, your rewards will surpass anything your mind could dream up. Namasté!

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