In general, us Westerners have a hell of a time being still. If there’s one thing I learned from teaching hot yoga in one of the most non-stop cities in the world, it’s that when we feel uncomfortable, practicing stillness becomes nearly impossible.
This was most evident in the practice of Savasana, a posture that translates from Sanskrit to “corpse pose,” which requires complete stillness and relaxation. In Hatha Yoga, Savasana is practiced right after a more vigorous posture, and though it requires little of us, the stillness and relaxation is far easier said than done.
So over the years teaching in a hot and humid room, guiding people from movement to stillness, I noticed firsthand what one of my teachers often said, and I paraphrase: “Savasana is nearly impossible for Westerners.” Sometimes it really feels truly impossible to relax and breathe when the room feels so hot and you feel unbearably uncomfortable. So I write these words in an effort to remember what this posture has taught me along the way: how to practice stillness, even when faced with discomfort.
The discomforts I currently face are not unique. I believe many people in some way, shape, or form struggle with finances: all of us could do with more money. And for those of us who are single and in search of a partner, these long cold winter nights are not always the easiest. But would my soul be truly at peace and would I really feel happy with my life if I had a man beside me and more money in the bank? I mean, would I?
I highly doubt it.
I once heard of a study where they followed people over a course of time, and those who were predominantly pessimistic would eventually fall back on this mental attitude even after winning the lottery; while those who were generally more optimistic would eventually return to that happy state of being even after something tragic had befallen them. At first, the Debbie Downers would feel ecstatic with their extra cash, and the Positive Pauls would experience some form of depression due to the tragedy, but over time, they would return to their initial, core ways of being.
My point being that no, receiving more would not necessarily make me feel the way I want to feel long-term. And as corny as it sounds, I’m trying to comprehend what it means to go within to find that which I most desire. Even though it drives me nuts whenever I read something cliche like “everything you seek is within,” I know there is truth to this.
It is a lot easier, at least from the way we operate as a culture, to just satisfy our needs with objects, people, or experiences outside of ourselves. Instant gratification hardly ever leads to long-term anything. So on this early March winter morning, with yet more snow coming down, I am left wondering if perhaps all I need to do amidst my overall discomfort is to practice stillness and relaxation.
The (very watered-down) philosophy behind Savasana is this: after putting the concentrated effort into a challenging yoga posture, returning to a neutral state and easing into relaxation allows one to receive the health benefits of the posture that was just previously done. I like to think of corpse pose as being a microcosm of winter, a season of death.
And so, perhaps the best I can do and therefore model for my son is to practice more conscious stillness. Particularly during those moments of discomfort when fear creeps in, uncertainty follows not far behind, and worrisome thoughts of lack and self-worth take up more and more space.
Rather than binging on Netflix or wasting precious hours on social media, two very tempting and easy ways to distract myself and ignore the discomfort, I will practice more stillness. Though I can easily find comfort and ease in a really hot room practicing challenging postures, the time has come for me to translate this into my day-to-day. The stresses of single parenthood are gonna come and go, but if I can find ways to be still and breathe during moments of discomfort, I can at least model for my son a healthy way of coping. I want to create a life for us where screen time has its place as something we enjoy sporadically, rather than succumbing to the rabbit holes that they can become.
The true magic of Savasana happens with all the circulation that takes place throughout the body, unencumbered. So maybe, just maybe, embracing stillness in these last few weeks of winter is just the right medicine to help me stay in the flow.