Saturday, October 01, 2005

Dancing Corpse

I've read BKS Iyengar's book Light on Yoga many times. It is an amazing resource. One thing that makes it so amazing for me is whenever I read it, I find something I've never seen before.

A few years ago, I noticed next to each Sanskrit name of a yoga pose, Mr. Iyengar spells out a number. For example, next to mountain pose (tadasana) is "One." By triangle pose (trikonasana) is "Three." "Five" is spelled out right next to downward facing dog pose (adho mukha svanasana).

It took a great deal of hunting around in the book before I finally found Iyengar's explanation for these numbers. These are his indication of the difficulty of each pose. (See page 55 in your copy of Light on Yoga.)

In my examples above downward facing dog pose is harder than triangle pose. And triangle pose is harder than mountain pose.

I've spent years since then trying to figure out why he considers some poses more intense than others. My experience just doesn't match his numbering system. For example he gives shoulder balance (salamba sarvangasana) a "Two" and head balance (salamba sirsasana) a "Four!" I think if I were in Colorado at the Yoga Journal conference right now, I'd try to ask him why. Until then, I continue to ponder.

Here's a little point for you to ponder with me. The highest number in the book is Sixty. It's associated with a pose called tiriang mukhottansana. But when I look up corpse pose (savasana), the relaxation pose we do at the end of every class, there's no number!

Iyengar simply says "this apparently easy posture is one of the most difficult to master." He says, "by remaining motionless for some time and keeping the mind still while you are fully conscious, you learn to relax."

I've been teaching yoga for a decade and a half. And I can tell you "remaining motionless" is hard. It's hard to do and hard to teach.

I've stood in thousands of clases and watched as students wiggle and fidget in the final relation pose. They toss and turn, scratch, flex, wiggle and on and on. Some of them never really experience stillness in the time we have together.

I eventually named these students dancing corpses.

This all came to mind tonight as my wife and daughter sat with me in the theater watching Tim Burton's new movie, Corpse Bride.

The main character, Victor, finds himself in the world of the dead after the accidentally places his wedding band on the finger of a corpse while practicing his wedding vow in a dark forest. The inhabitants of the nether world welcome him with celebration. The screen is filled with, you guessed it, dancing corpses in various stages of decomposition.

My favorites were the dancing skeletons.

If you fidget in this relaxation pose, I have two tips for you.

1) Progressive relaxation. When you're lying down ready to do the pose, start at your feet. Contract your muscles there. Then release after a few seconds. Move progressively through all the muscle groups in your body until you've reached the muscles in your face. You can really get the feel for letting go with this practice.

2) Practice. Yup. Practice. Regularly. Frequently. Relaxing and being still are just like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Keep practicing. Don't give up.

Put these tips into practice and soon your dancing corpse will rest in peace.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

Kevin Perry

p.s., One of my favorite parts of the movie was when the lead male character was reunited with his dog Scraps (in skeleton form) in the nether world. It was a happy reunion.

In Sanskrit, sava is corpse, and savasana is corpse pose. Svana is dog, and svanasana is dog pose. So I suppose a pose named after the dog corpse, Scraps, should be called svana savasana.

Svanasana and savasana are often mixed up by yogis who are learning the Sanskrit names of the poses they practice. I call these and other common mix-ups "problem pairs." We'll work on problem pairs when we get together for the fun, four-hour Experience Sanskrit workshop coming up October 15 in Columbia, MO.

Find out more at Register ($50) at

We also have dates set for Dallas, TX and Annapolis, MD. Click on

p.p.s., I love to look at bodies. Even though they're animated, the characters in Corpse Bride show some fabulous (and exaggerated) examples of kyphosis, a common posture variation. I wrote about yoga and kyphosis in a Daily Yoga Tip back in April. According to my web page statistics, it is one of the most frequently read tips on my web page. You can read it at

p.p.p.s., We chatted with Lucas, the manager of the Hote Lagunita, several times this week. He's in the United States. We were able to put the finishing touches on many of the details of our Experience Paradise yoga vacation coming up February 18-25, 2006. You wil not want to miss it. Find out more at

I really got excited this week after talking to Lucas. Your experience in Yelapa and in the yoga room will be fabulous, guaranteed. Many of the vacationers we took with us to Yelapa last year said it was the best vacation they'd ever had! It's the perfect combination of adventure, pleasure and affordability. Please make plans now to join us in Mexico. You will not be disappointed.

Copyright 2005. All rights reserved, Mo Yoga LLC.


Anonymous megan sappington said...

Hi Kevin!
Great post...and so true.
Tell me what you may recommend for a student that cups their hands? she rests with her palms up, but slightly cupped, fingers gripped, and thumbs pressed into the mound...i've tried lightly touching her hands, and they do relax initially, but within seconds they revert back to this *grip*...maybe a hand massage prior to savasana?
any suggestions would be great.
also in parvritta parsvakonasana, is the back foot turned a third out? or is it kept similar to lunge?..i've found pics depicting both...personally i can torque more fully in my torso with my foot in lunge position, but i have tight hips...

1:40 PM  

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