Savasana - Widening the Field of Experience

09/11/2012 20:56


The first pranayama session of the teacher training. We begin with a chanting session, to open formally and, as I always feel, to help the mind settle down. After opening chants and after the Kriyas and breathwork, Stephen always recommends lying down in Savasana. The pranayama cleanses and balances the subtle body. So energetically we shake loose what was stuck. Savasana can be helpful as it will clear the stuff out. If the body is tired, it will regenerate. If the nervous system is going haywire, it will steady. Or as Stephen said today, the Nadis (or Meridians in Traditional Chinese Medicine) are like little rivers through which Prana (or Chi, life energy) flows. In some places the rivulets have run wild and in other areas a drought has left the river bed arid. Especially after Pranayama, Savasana will even out these imbalances, transport Prana to where there are blockages or deficits.


This morning, Stephen shares how at the beginning, it seemed strange to him to do Savasana almost at the beginning of the practice, so to start off quietly, silently, without movement. However, since all our Hatha Yoga practices, such as Mantra, Pranayama or Asana simply serve the purpose of waking up, becoming present, it makes sense to move into a quiet space after we've done the practices. So we move closer towards the raw experience, as opposed to always being in our head.


Unfortunately, once we get quiet on the outside, the inner landscape usually gets annoyingly loud. Just like today when they were chopping down trees with a chainsaw outside the shala. We tried to shut the noise out by closing the doors. Stephen smiled and pointed out the symbolism: Just because we shut the door, that doesn't mean the noise will cease.


Left with no distraction in the outer world, the mind begins to busy itself with creating stories in the inner world. In fact, I had just started my train of thought about my own little drama of sleep deprivation (label = bad), when Stephen encourages us to avoid conceptualizing the experience as we settle into Savasana.

The mind always wants to label experience. It is a quick fix. Think, for instance, of the situation when we meet someone new. The mind instantly goes “like/dislike”. After the first 10 minutes of small talk, we think we already get the person. We instantly fit them into our little personal filing system of judgments.


The mind is efficient like that. Experiencing every moment as it is, is a huge effort. It means you have to be present all the time. That's why it is much easier to be on your mat and anticipate experience: “Oh man, Utkatasana kills my thighs every time! I hate rotated triangle! I will never be able to backbend like that!” That way we are safe. We don't actually have to expose ourselves to the raw experience. We've already boiled it down to what we think is its essence. As the great BKS Iyengar once said: "An opinion is yesterday's right or wrong knowledge warmed up and re-served for today's situation." 


It is precisely in our mat practice, however, that we learn that body and mind fluctuate from day to day, even from moment to moment. Why should nature out there be any different? We only cling to the strategy of narrowing experience so we don't have to go through the process of exploring, or of naked awareness, as the Buddhists call it. For some reason, the mind wants to be in the know, wants to be safe from questioning everything all over again.


But if we constantly narrow the experience by overlapping it with our template, with what we think is real – are we ever really there? Do we ever really experience? As Stephen said, the practice is just a trick to get us there – or actually, as he likes to say, to get us “awake, awake, right here, right now.” Which is why, after all the cleansing of the energetic body and preparing of the gross body, we lie down or we sit in meditation. When the slate has been wiped clean, we are sometimes lucky enough to catch a glimpse of naked awareness, without narrowing the field of experience.