Yoga practice is a type of ritual. While there are various types of yoga styles, most follow the same pattern: a short gathering time to set an intention and turn inward, then the practice itself, and finishing with a closing where the practice is integrated into the whole body. There are three postures at the end of the yoga practice that are vital to me: corpse pose, fetal position, and the final sitting position with the sharing of namaste.
Corpse pose, or Shavasana (sava=corpse), is the position of death and dying. As the practice comes to a close, we are invited to release the back of the body to the floor. Legs are mat width apart. Hands are facing up to the sky. Neck and chin are neutral. The breath shifts from the heated ujjayi breathing to a relaxed state. In corpse the body is still, calm, and ready to integrate the benefits of the practice.
Throughout the physical practice, the nervous system has been given a host of new neuromusclar information. Corpse pose, the pose of death, gives the system a chance to catch up, integrate that new information before the body deals with the highs and lows of daily life.
This is the pose that invites me to die to my old self, and rise to the new. I hear these words in my practice, especially from my teacher, Jennifer Triassi. On my back, palms raised to the heavens, my body connected to Earth, I let my body release itself from the old patterns of living and take on new ways. I am not always conscious of what those old and new are--I am putting my trust in the posture and my body to identify those ways.
It's the pose of resurrection. And I take on the resurrection at the end of every practice.
After a few minutes of corpse, I transition into a seated position. In yoga, transitions are poses in and of themselves. How I transition to a pose is just as important as the pose itself.
From corpse, I move into the fetal position. This is the position of new beginnings. From the pose of dying, I rest for a few seconds in the pose of newness.
From fetal position, I find myself in a seated position. Rested. Still. Calm.
Namaste is the word that closes out yoga practices. It has various translations and the one I've connected with is "I recognize the light in you." We bow as we say, "Namaste." '
Namaste can come off as a fluffy, Lululemon-light, romanticized way of closing the practice. Super. Now that we are all "om'd" out, got a yoga butt, and see light in everything, we can blow out of practice and head to Whole Foods.
I practice yoga in a class, rarely on my own. This is intentional. In a group, corpse/fetal/namaste take on a collective experience. This closing ritual binds me to those around me, reminding me of the collective responsibility yoga gives me. If I recognize the light within all, there is a collective responsibility to respond to that light. I can't say "I recognize the light in you" and then act like an asshole. Recognition of light means I see you as a living, breathing being. Namaste pushes me to recognize ways systems diminish and silence humanity. I have a responsibility to live out these poses and the sharing of namaste, in a collective way, off my mat, outside the room, and into daily living.