Working through the hardest pose in yoga

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.


For whatever reason, here in the West we look at the ending of the Gregorian calendar and think, “Time to make a change.” It’s the time of year when your shala becomes packed with the resolution yogis (who will slowly thin out by the end of February, so be patient). Gyms are packed. The population of joggers goes up in the morning. Even the Whole Foods produce section gets a little more close.

Here in the Confluence Countdown household, we are not immune to this effect. Steve has resolved to read more classical Indian texts, and has started on his list already (I’m sure he’ll be talking about that). This year, dagnabbit, I’m going to take on a beast.

My resolution this year is to finally face what is, for me, the most difficult pose in the practice: Savasana.

I know what you’re thinking. She’s being facetious. Kidding. No, I’m not. I’ve been practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga for well over a decade, and other forms off and on for six years before that, and I’ve never been able to do this pose.

I’ve laid there, mind popping loudly like mustard seeds in hot coconut oil, going over my practice, what time it is, what day it is, if I can scratch my ear, what I’ll make for dinner, the fact that it’s time to rotate my tires–really, I’ll think about any dang thing but what I’m supposed to be thinking about, which is nothing. What’s worse, I’m in seething envy of the dude next to me who is clearly in the early stages of sleep, breathing in deep sonorous rhythm. That envy turns to annoyance at whoever’s snoring to my left.Great day in the morning, hasn’t it been ten minutes yet? I think.

This leaves me feeling like a total poser when the teacher gently rouses the class from rest with tinging bells, or a softly recited poem, or turning down the savasana music that got me thinking in great detail about the oeuvre of Krishna Das. I of course knew this gentle awakening was coming, because I heard the teacher get up and move across the room for the bells, or flipping the pages of the book, or walking quietly to the stereo control.

Turning to my right to transition gently back into the world I never left? Sure. Why not? I move in fake slo-mo.

You might think, ye who find savasana restorative and necessary, that it would actually be easier to practice the last pose at home, in your personal practice, which is what I currently have. No. Way harder.

When there’s no pressure to be polite to your fellow practitioners and be still, you can fidget all you like. You can hum a little tune. You can scratch. You can think about the coconut water in the fridge, just fifteen feet away. Or about the clothes that need to go in the dryer. Look at the clock all you like. And then you can think, Aw, to heck with it, then give up, get up, and walk out, no questions asked.

I was raised as an Ashtangi with Tim Miller’s beautiful stories of epic long practices, just him and Guruji in his home, with correspondingly epic long savasanas—so long Amma would stick her head into the room and suggest, “Coffee, Tim?” He would describe tearful drifting, swells of gratitude and powerful feelings of union with his teacher. To me, that kind of peace is as unreachable as Sixth Series.

There are technical aspects to the pose, you know. Check out this detailed and highly methodical description in Yoga Journal. My favorite part: “In addition to quieting the physical body in Savasana, it’s also necessary to pacify the sense organs.” Pacify them? They own me. My sense organs are like the Chihuahua that lives next door: The more I gently say “shhh! good dog!” to him, the more it ticks him off. Bark bark bark bark, my sense organs say to me.

Tellingly, these instructions totally leave out the hardest part of the pose: Pratyahara, the fifth limb, what you’re supposed to be doing in savasana and the whole point of the entire ordeal you just went through. There I am, at the pinnacle of the practice, head hands and feet in proper position, tongue relaxed, breathing relaxed–I mean, I am in perfect posture here–yet all I can think about whether or not I remembered to turn off the coffee maker.

Tim has taught me exactly what’s supposed to be going on here. Inward turning. This is where the cittas are supposed to stop vrittaing. It’s called “corpse pose,” but you’re not supposed to be lying there like road kill; you’re supposed to be working on internal maintenance, disciplining the mind in the same way you just disciplined the body. Not easy. Tim was once asked in a teacher training if it’s okay to fall asleep insavasana, and his full answer is telling: “No,” he said, strongly (and immediately), then added, after a pause, “But it’s so sweet when you do.”

Which I cannot. No matter how hard I try.

But, I have a plan.

This year will be different. For the first time, I’m going to treat savasana like any other pose. I’m going to discipline myself, just do the darn pose, and if at first I don’t succeed, I will try try again. Yes, I will fail. But the worst thing that could happen? I might fall asleep.

Posted by Bobbie

Friday asana aid: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

During Thursday’s practice, I finished up with Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, and Jörgen Christiansson appeared.

“Let’s do it again,” he said, offering up his hand for support.

“I was hoping we would,” I replied. I wasn’t.

Here’s some suggestions for the more pro-Utthita Hasta-ers out there. Some regulars appear.

First, Los Angeles-based Maria Villela:

Next, Kino MacGregor:

Ashtanga Workshop’s Chris Croft up next:

And Sheila Chutskoff:

Posted by Steve