Savasana and the Art of Integration

I’ve started back into a yoga practice, very slowly, after a long time of fearing that mat. For the last six months, almost daily, I’d set up my mat in the morning (if you build it, they will come) and then for the rest of the day continue to walk to and fro across it, finding all manner of excuses for why now wasn’t the right time. Then, at 9pm, I’d roll up the mat, and promise myself that tomorrow would be the day.

I was scared of what my hips were and are going to tell me.

According to yoga (and now a lot of functional doctors and therapists), the hips are where we store all kinds of things we push down or run from: scary emotions, trauma, stress and anxiety, fear. Knowing that, if I consider the past six months and what has gone on for me personally and professionally…it feels like I could be walking into a Jordan Peele remake of a classic horror movie—scarier, darker, and with more practical implications. So naturally, I’ve been avoiding that very much.

What one forgets when yoga is not present in life is the great flow of the practice. Now there are styles of yoga for every purpose—some practices are incredibly rigorous, strenuous, and strength-building. Others emphasize breath and flow. Some build heat in the body while others create calm. To every season, there’s a yoga practice. But no matter the practice you always end with the same asana called savasana—some call it corpse pose (which I think is a more literal translation of the Sanskrit), others I’ve heard say final resting pose.

Regardless of terminology, it’s all the same: as the very final movement you lay on your back, arms out comfortable with palms facing up, fingers curling naturally as they relax while you outstretch your legs and let your feet drop as they will to the floor. You return to regular breathing and lie in stillness for 5-10 minutes.

In my mind, this is the most glorious pose of them all, not because you’re resting, but because you’re integrating. As I understand it, the purpose of this pose is to allow your body to accept the benefits and changes that have happened during the practice up to that minute. It’s a chance for all of the good you’ve done to soak in. When do we ever do this in any other circumstance, physical or not?!?

Frankly, we should. When I get up after only 5 minutes literally lying on the ground and resting quietly, I feel like a different person than the one who begrudgingly stepped onto that mat just 30 or 40 minutes (or sometimes 20 or 10…) before. I’ve always thought of this soaking in as a physical thing, but tonight it was very clear that it’s also a mental and emotional integration. I got up from savasana after a very gentle 30-minute practice feeling completely in control of my being—my physical self felt more open and longer somehow; my mind was absolutely silent…I can’t remember the last time that happened on its own; my heart was very full. I was present in that moment.

Imagine what would happen if we took a 5-minute period as our work day ended to not practice anything particular but allow everything that preceded that moment to come together. What would happen if, after a stressful or joyful happening that caught us off guard, we stopped and allowed for silence to help us pull that experience into some kind of meaning? I know my life would be different. And I know some people do meditation…I mean, that’s the goal; that’s the entire reason for yoga as a physical practice to exist…but how often is that meditation integrative? How often do we do it because there’s a little reward in our app at the end? This isn’t to shame the idea—any meditation is good…but do we tackle it as another to-do or do we use it to marry our experiences of the mind with our physical and emotional selves? I know what I can say for myself and, since I’m writing this bit in pure awe, you can guess how often it’s been happening here recently.

But here’s the real measure of how I know something profound was going on there: June, my dog, came and laid down and did savasana with me. Now, granted, the floor is her domain and when I cross the plane of the ottoman in any activity, it’s like meeting a very adorable troll guarding her hardwood bridge. It’s probably because she’s a low-rider dog and is very close to it all the time and also literal pounds of her hair fall onto it every day. Nevertheless, she came and laid with me tonight, sidled up right close to me, integrating.

I believe that everything that animals do is divine—every connection we have with them is pure and true because they are pure and true versions of themselves all the time. She has never, ever done that before. I took it as a great sign that good, pure, and true things were happening there. Change is happening. Growth is happening.

Of course, she also believes the yoga mat, as part of her domain, is hers so…I might’ve been trespassing…but let’s go with the other explanation…it’s so much more satisfying, no?

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