(Health Secrets) The most significant and important posture or pose in hatha yoga is also the most ignored or lightly regarded. It is known as the corpse pose. It is customarily done after all those other stretches and positions that are part of a hatha yoga session.
For the corpse pose, you lie flat on your back on the mat or floor with arms to the side and legs extended on the floor — like a corpse. Although this seems quite easy to do, this is usually the most difficult of all the poses because it involves relaxing and letting go!
My Acting Class Corpse Pose Experience
Many years ago in New York, I came across a New York Times article on hatha yoga, which was breaking into acceptance in the Big Apple. I was intrigued, got a yoga book with photographs and started teaching myself.
Then I enrolled in a lower Manhattan acting school called School of the Actors’ Company, run by award winning actress Irene Daily. One of the required classes was run by a modern dance specialist. It was called Movement. The point was to get people more in touch and comfortable with using their bodies as an actor’s instrument. This class always started with some basic hatha yoga postures.
The classroom was a hardwood, heavily mirrored room used for dance instruction. However, we were not allowed to use the mirrors to correct our postures. The instructor didn’t come over and physically correct us either. We were gently coached to feel stretching in various body parts. This is the way hatha yoga should be approached, focusing on physical sensations, and not so much as a look-at-what-I-can-do or semi-aerobic exercise routine.
Then came the corpse pose. We didn’t bring blankets or mats with us to that class. Everything, including the plough, cobra poses and the corpse pose, was done on that shiny hardwood floor. When doing the corpse pose, I was forced to relax the body almost muscle by muscle until I could relax completely without any desire to move or end the pose.
The one thing I knew from my hatha yoga literature was the corpse pose is not an invitation to snooze even lightly. As a matter of fact, it is an invitation to become more conscious, more aware, more wide awake and centered. It is a beckoning to engage in meditation. The Movement instructor guided us patiently while, in the background, the slow gentle baroque classical guitar of John Williams played.
How to Do A Corpse Pose Properly
The purpose of using the hardwood floor without mats or blankets to practice the corpse pose was to keep us from cheating. I had to stay alert and release all the tense parts of my body. We were taught to start with the toes and feet, although it’s possible to start with the head. To do this pose correctly, use a relaxed intention and coax the part of the body upon which you focus until there is a sensation of the muscles and skin drooping or sinking into the floor.
As you move up the body from the feet, go to the calves until they are totally relaxed. Continue up each section of the body until the entire body is relaxed. If a section previously relaxed tenses up again, return to that part and restart from there. This is all done with eyes closed and complete awareness.
Eventually, your body should feel very light, almost like it’s floating. Your mind should be empty of mental chatter but alert and aware. You should be able to hear everything around you without being distracted or annoyed. When you have achieved this state, you will begin to feel the floating sensation.
One Indian yogi remarked that you are not relaxed if even one part of the body has tension remaining. By the time you finish, you should be experiencing an extremely comfortable lightness of being without any compulsion to move or fall asleep. The time it takes to get to that state depends on your current level of tension. It takes practice. Energetic healing protocols regard tension as energy that is stuck. The chi or prana is clogged, and that leads to disease. So the corpse pose has a lot to do with health and healing, as well as being a precursor to meditation.
No other hatha yoga postures are necessary in order to benefit from the corpse pose. After mastering the corpse pose, I would simply do it wherever there was a space of unoccupied floor whenever I started feeling tense, irritable, or mentally scattered. Just a few minutes sufficed.
My apartment mate refused to do any hatha yoga poses or try the corpse pose on the floor, but managed to get good results by practicing the corpse pose on his bed or the couch. A Cuban fellow who had been captured in the Bay of Pigs invasion told me he endured captivity easily by doing the corpse pose daily. It helped him maintain a positive mental state and physical health. He didn’t call it by that name, but he described the very technique used for getting to that extreme state of relaxation. The point is, it requires practice. If you attend hatha yoga classes, realize that the corpse pose is usually given short shrift in favor of moving on to make way for another class or allow the instructor to close up. Besides, not everyone has the ingenuity and patience to guide you into deep relaxation as my Movement class instructor did.
To truly benefit, you must practice often, even without the yoga exercise routine that usually comes before it. The chi or pranic energy in and around the body can actually heal if it is not blocked. That’s what acupuncture, polarity therapy, and any energetic healing modality is about. Consistent corpse pose practice results in better health, more emotional and mental equanimity, and a greater ability to be in the moment with clarity.
You can call it power relaxation, in keeping with today’s labeling trends. With just 20 minutes or less of intense relaxation a day, which is easy to achieve after you’ve practiced enough to know the sensation and be able to get there quickly, you’ll also find it easier to be energetic with less sleep. In other words, this apparently lazy practice will enable you to be more productive in the long run.
Photo credit: mobileyogaworkout.wordpress.com
Published with permission from AlignLife. Original article link is here.