Many cultures around the world take a day or few to acknowledge the reality of death. Many people believe that you will always live on as long as someone in the living world remembers you.
Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, is a happy day about celebrating a deceased loved one or ones and remembering them by making bread of the dead, their favorite foods and playing their favorite music. People build altars, ofrendas, in their homes or at the graves and fill them with their deceased loved ones’ favorite things, tissue paper decorations, and sugar skulls.
The delicacy of the tissue paper means that the decorations won’t last long at all. They are meant to be enjoyed until they fall apart or until it's time to take them down. This non-attachment to longevity is in line with yoga philosophy and many other Day of the Dead art forms that are only temporary.
Beautiful orange flowers called marigolds (Cempasúchil) and candles line spaces from graves to houses so that the lost souls can be guided on these paths back to the world of the living. Celebrations can take a humorous tone, as celebrants remember funny events, jokes, and stories about the departed.
Dia de los Muerto evolved from a blending of Aztec traditions and Catholic religion. For hundreds of years, the Aztecs dedicated a festival to the goddess Mictecacihuatl, "Lady of the Dead." She is often associated with owls which are also symbols for wisdom, mystery, and transition. Today in Mexico, the Catalinas (skeletal female figurines) are an echo of this goddess.
In Aztec culture, like many ancient cultures, the head was believed to be a source of human power and energy, thus the skull is a powerful relic.
The blending of the Catholic religion creates these days as All Souls Day (for every deceased person) and All Saints Day (Day of the Innocents). On these days, the dead souls are welcome to visit and to reconnect on a spiritual journey.
Our Western society today is both deeply fearful of and uncomfortable with death. For many of us, death implies a cold, unpleasant, and unwelcome end to all we find precious. We hold powerful attachments to our bodies, relationships, material possessions, and identities that feed into the fear of death. Today, painting your face like a skull is a chance to symbolically overcome your fear of death.
In the yoga tradition, deeply acknowledging the reality of death is said to be a source of freedom.
Sometimes we hear stories of people who clinically died for minutes or more and came back with a huge zest for life. When we acknowledge death as inevitable instead of being blinded by our fear of it, everything else just comes into clearer focus, including the preciousness of each moment of life. In the same way, when we can fully surrender in Death/Corpse Pose, we can live fully as well.
Do you ever wonder why we take a long “resting pose” at the end of our yoga practice?
Practicing Savasana, pronounced Shuh-vah-sana, at the end of each yoga session is practicing the art of dying. When we finally surrender, we let divine healing and love melt in and over us. Taking this final resting pose at the end of any yoga class allows your body a chance to regroup and reset itself. It is perhaps the most important part of yoga practice.
Savasana can be compared to turning off your computer when it is not working properly, let it rest for 10-60 seconds, then turning it back on again. It usually performs faster and more efficiently after this reset.
This resting pose calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression. It is a relaxation of the nervous system, where the heart rate slows and blood pressure lowers. This pose reduces headache, fatigue, and insomnia while increasing energy levels and increase in focus and productivity afterwards.
We are practicing death. Yoga itself means to yoke or unite. And the ultimate yoga is to yoke with the Divine/Universe. And the ultimate union with God is death. To be a yogi is to stare death in the face. We begin to shed layers of fear and desire. We want to dissolve the ego and live our life in unity with our purpose.
Savasana is the ultimate act of conscious surrender. This is meant to be a fully conscious pose, not a nap, aimed at being awake yet completely relaxed. It’s normal for the mind to try to resist this deep relaxation.
This Sanskrit name translates to Corpse Pose. In Corpse Pose, we symbolically “die” to our old ways of thinking and doing. Our society tends to place greater value on speed and productivity. Learning how to do nothing is a skill that can help you become more productive when you need to be. It takes practice and patience to surrender easily. When we do, we find a state of blissful neutrality of nothing with no thoughts and no dreams. Deep healing and rest result from this conscious savasana.
How to Savasana
After directing your energy towards physically strengthening, balancing, and stretching your body, lie flat on your back and tuck your shoulder blades behind you and down.
Let the crown of your head align with your long spine, tailbone pointing towards your heels, and let your chin remain perpendicular to the earth.
Turn your palms to be facing upward on the floor, with your arms at 45 degree angles from the side of your body.
Let your fingers curl up slightly. With your legs long and feet slightly wider than your hips, let your feet and knees relax completely, toes falling gently to the sides.
Allow gravity pull you down as you sink into the floor.
Then close your eyes and turn your awareness inwards, away from sensory distraction. Scan your body from head to toe, looking for tension. Consciously release any areas that you find and physically relax all of your muscles and bones. I like to then direct my focus inward, on a healing loving light, glowing from my center. Your body is a material container for your soul.
Finally, release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body. Stop fighting the clock, and make space for peace and harmony to fill your soul. Stay in Savasana for 5 to 15 minutes, 5 minutes for every hour your spent in other, more physically active yoga postures.
Then, gently, reawaken. Wiggle your fingers and toes. Make small circles with your ankles and knees. Reach your arms overhead and point and flex your toes. Invite a deep breath back into your body as you restart your life with less fear, clearer focus, and unity of love.
Practice a whole hour of Dia de los Muertos, Yoga with a long Savasana at the end on my Video Course, Fun Yoga for Autumn.