You’ve made it to the end of class. It’s time for savasana. Your students are winding down and settling in for final relaxation. You dim the lights and encourage everyone to take a softening breath as you send them into a sweet, sattvic savasana with one of these amazing poems.
* * *
Mary Oliver is one of the most celebrated contemporary American poets. A Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award recipient, Oliver herself is a yogi, and her yogic sensibility shines through in poems such as “Wild Geese.” Here, Oliver touches on universal themes such as despair, loneliness, longing to belong and seeking refuge. As students settle into savasana, this poem can be a sweet reminder that when we turn inside, we are already home. We can always come home again.
by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
* * *
Taken literally, “When Death Comes” is a perfect poem for savasana, because we take the shape of a corpse in the ultimate pose of surrender and stillness. We experience a kind of death in savasana, acknowledging that the practice session is over and understanding that we are reborn and renewed every time we step on the mat. Taken more figuratively, Oliver’s poem speaks to the deeper implications of our yoga practice, which is that yoga helps us go deeper in. We notice more, embrace more, appreciate more, pursue more, connect more, feel more, and love more. We are not just scratching the surface of life, or simply “getting by.” We are getting in; we are getting involved in the tapestry of our own lives, and we take this all in in savasana.
When Death Comes
by Mary Oliver
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
* * *
Another gem by Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods” speaks to the wisdom of nature and how we humans are not so different than the trees and the ponds. In savasana, we, too, can “turn our own bodies into pillars of light” as we rest in stillness and embodied awareness of our inner radiance. In this poem, Oliver encourages us to practice “aparigraha,” non-clinging, so we can surrender to that which is beyond our control and, when the time comes, let go. Every time we practice savasana, we practice letting go.
In Blackwater Woods
by Mary Oliver
Look, the trees
their own bodies
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
the long tapers
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders
of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the times comes to let it go,
to let it go.
* * *
Rainer Maria Rilke, a German poet, is known for his mystical poetry that speaks to the “big ideas” of life, such as eternity and the very nature of our existence. Rilke’s poem, “Sunset,” sets the stage perfectly for savasana, as savasana can be considered the “sunset” of our practice. Simultaneously, our spirit “climbs toward heaven” as our body “sinks to earth,” as Rilke so eloquently expresses in the first stanza. We settle our physical body so our emotional and spiritual bodies can abide peacefully in repose. The last line of the poem speaks to the play of opposites we experience on the mat and in our lives off the mat; that is, sometimes we feel “blocked in,” as if our life were a “stone” in us, and other times, we feel like we are “reaching out,” shining our light like a star.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
Slowly the west reaches for clothes of new colors
which is passes to a row of ancient trees.
You look, and soon these two worlds both leave you,
one part climbs toward heaven, one sinks to earth,
leaving you, not really belonging to either,
not so hopelessly dark as that house that is silent,
not so unswervingly given to the eternal as that thing
that turns to a star each night and climbs —
leaving you (it is impossible to untangle the threads)
your own life, timid and standing high and growing,
so that, sometimes blocked in, sometimes reaching out,
one moment your life is a stone in you, and the next, a star.
* * *
The last stanza of Rilke’s “You See I Want a Lot” is where it’s at. Rilke invokes the imagery of water (which works well for the asana practice, as our bodies are about 60 percent water) and encourages us to dive in, to go deeper, to experience our “increasing depths” as we come back to the mat over and over again. When we come to stillness in savasana, we can feel the effects of the practice ripple through our bodies. Rilke’s poem calls us to show up, “feel thirst,” do the work and let go of our perceived limitations so life can “calmly give out its own secret.”
You See I Want a Lot
by Rainer Maria Rilke
You see, I want a lot.
Perhaps I want everything:
the darkness that comes with every infinite fall
and the shivering blaze of every step up.
So many live on and want nothing,
and are raised to the rank of prince
by the slippery ease of their light judgments.
But what you see are faces
that do work and feel thirst.
You love most of all those who need you
as they need a crowbar or a hoe.
You have not grown old, and it is not too late
to dive into your increasing depths
where life calmly gives out its own secret.
* * *
The lyrical quality of William Butler Yeats’s poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” in-and-of-itself is enough to lull students into a restful savasana. The imagery of the poem evokes the serenity of nature. The speaker arises and goes to “Innisfree,” his happy place, a place of tranquility and spaciousness where he experiences the simple joy of being quiet and attuned to nature. For many yoga practitioners, the yoga mat is our own personal “Innisfree,” a rectangular sanctuary of sorts, a refuge from the daily grind and stresses of modern life. In savasana, as we rest of bodies and minds and abide in equanimity, we are reminded that the quieter you become, the more you can hear. We can truly be at peace and hear, as Yeats says in the last line, what is in our “deep heart’s core.”
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by William Butler Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements gray,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
* * *
“The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry can be considered one big metaphor for savasana. The speaker of Berry’s poem feels unsettled by despair and fear and seeks refuge in nature by coming into “the peace of wild things,” meaning wild animals who do not “tax their lives with forethought of grief.” In savasana, we can do the same. When we move into final relaxation, we “come into the presence of still water.” We settle our body and mind and bear witness to the physical and emotional encumbrances that dim our light. We learn to let go of the thoughts that do not serve us. In savasana, we can “rest in the grace of the world” and be free, even if it’s just for a moment.
The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
* * *
T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” speaks to the personal journey that is yoga. We are always a work in progress, which Eliot alludes to in the first line of this section of what is a much longer poem: “We shall not cease from exploration.” Nowhere is this personal exploration more apparent than in the yoga asana practice. The practice begins and ends with you. You start where you are and hopefully, by the time savasana comes, you have experienced some sort of transformation, and arrive where you started — a place of embodied awareness — and thus “know the place for the first time.” You come to know yourself better every time you step on the mat. As students take savasana, Eliot’s poem can encourage them to settle into “a condition of complete simplicity” and know that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
We Shall Not Cease (from Little Gidding)
by T.S. Eliot
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always —
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.
* * *
Naomi Shihab Nye captures the bliss of a well-deserved savasana in her poem, “So Much Happiness.” She describes the essence of what true happiness really is: unfettered and always accessible — if we let it be. “Happiness floats,” Nye says, “It doesn’t need you to hold it down / It doesn’t need anything.” In savasana, we learn to let sadness go and invite happiness in.
So Much Happiness
by Naomi Shihab Nye
It is difficult to know what to do with so much happiness.
With sadness there is something to rub against,
a wound to tend with lotion and cloth.
When the world falls in around you, you have pieces to
something to hold in your hands, like ticket stubs
But happiness floats.
It doesn’t need you to hold it down.
It doesn’t need anything.
Happiness lands on the roof of the next house, singing,
You are happy either way.
Even the fact that you once lived in a peaceful tree house
and now live over a quarry of noise and dust
cannot make you unhappy.
Everything has a life of its own,
it too could wake up filled with possibilities
of coffee cake and ripe peaches,
and love even the floor which needs to be swept,
the soiled linens and scratched records…
Since there is no place large enough
to contain so much happiness,
you shrug, you raise your hands, and it flows out of you
into everything you touch. You are not responsible.
You take no credit, as the night sky takes no credit
for the moon, but continues to hold it, and share it,
and in that way, be known.
* * *
The journey of yoga is the journey to and from the self. It is a journey towards greater self-awareness and self-love, which we can appreciate in the sweet surrender and bliss of savasana. In his poem, “Love After Love,” Derek Walcott encourages us to treat ourselves with the same generosity, hospitality and kindness we would offer to someone who shows up at our door in need of love and compassion. Through a dedicated yoga practice, “You will love again the stranger who was your self.” In savasana, we take in the effects of the practice. We feel we can rest easy here, abide here with loving awareness, and “give back [our] heart to itself.”
Love After Love
by Derek Walcott
The time will come
When, with elation,
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror,
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here, Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
To itself, to the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Lauren discovered yoga in early 2007 after graduating from college. As a former athlete and gym enthusiast, she found herself seeking a more balanced and holistic approach to exercise and overall wellness. After hearing about the myriad health benefits of yoga, she signed up for a beginner class at the Red Bank YMCA. Despite feeling inflexible, gangly and incredibly awkward, Lauren was intrigued by the practice of yoga. She started taking classes at Dancing Foot Yoga in Red Bank and fell in love with Anusara yoga, a style of hatha yoga known for its universal principles of alignment and emphasis on opening to grace both on and off the mat. After six years of study and practice, Lauren completed a 200-hour teacher training with Emily Huresky and Dina Crosta in 2013. She now teaches alignment-based vinyasa classes in the Anusara tradition. Lauren is also an English and Spanish teacher at Trinity Hall, an all-girls independent school in Tinton Falls, NJ, where she finds joy and inspiration on a daily basis.[/box]
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