“You know your yoga practice is working when you get better at life, not at a certain pose,” intones the gracious and gifted yoga Master Teacher Jillian Pransky.
Her expert tutelage evokes many such “aha” moments during a weeklong Therapeutic Restorative Yoga Teacher Training at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. Nestled in the heart of the autumn Berkshires, this place cradles me in a gold, crimson, and orange embrace. The community of like-minded people, too, has embraced me in acceptance and connection. I anticipate a bumpy re-entry into the atmosphere of those whose eyes glaze over when I extoll yoga’s myriad benefits.
I am most drawn to this deeply calming practice as I get older and, I hope, wiser. The steady stream of people leaving my life – through divorce, children maturing, and parents dying – has made for choppy seas. Yoga practice does not necessarily calm the waters; it is the natural Dramamine that helps steady me in the waves.
One evening Jillian asks that we attend her restorative yoga class held for the entire Kripalu community. Hardly a hardship, this is the best homework I’ve “had” to do. The class is divine.
Savasana, or corpse pose, closes every yoga session. Practitioners believe it’s the most important pose because during this prone position, with eyes closed, the body integrates all it has experienced during the practice. It makes you whole. It can, though, be as challenging as it is relaxing, because the stillness can be scary. It opens you up and leaves you vulnerable. But of course, visiting those dark places can illuminate them and make them less frightening.
Usually in Savasana I feel quite expansive. The boundaries between my body and the air around me soften, and I open up. This evening though, I feel expansive, but within my body. I feel separate from it, as if I am looking at it from the inside – able to poke up at this vessel I inhabit with curiosity and wonder.
The English meaning of the Sanskrit name feels particularly poignant on this night. When my sister and I sat by my mother’s side nearly a year ago as she lay dying, after she’d lapsed into that space between here and there, I often wondered how she felt, what she experienced. Lying in Savasana this evening, I feel I now know. Tears roll down my cheeks and onto the yoga mat as I experience, in the most tangible way I ever have, my soul.
In the morning session, we debrief about our experience. I feel reluctant to share mine with the group despite their clearly demonstrated unconditional acceptance. They’ll think I’m crazy.
Still, I tentatively raise my hand, and when Jillian recognizes me, I begin. The room listens in respectful silence as I recount what is difficult for me to even put into words. I notice some of the students put their hands together at their heart into Anjali mudra, the mudra of honoring. Eyes lower, and I hear soft sniffles of compassion. And I, too, cry as I explain how deeply the practice, and especially Savasana, affected me last night. I have struggled for nearly a year to make peace with my grief. As I open up to the class, like I did to my feelings in Savasana, I allow myself to look at them, to touch them, to acknowledge them in a way that I’ve not done since she died. The parallel I see between the peace I felt in the pose and the peace she must have felt at the end brings me profound comfort.
“Thank you so much for sharing that,” Jillian says as she wraps me in a deep and consoling hug. And I feel no regret, shame, or judgment at having verbalized the profound moment. Quite to the contrary, I feel I’ve let a little bit of sadness that I’ve been holding onto inside dissipate into the solace surrounding me.