Being with the dying will be one of the greatest gifts you give yourself in this lifetime. This seva, self-less service, will bring you such contentment and gratitude it will at times feel selfish. As students of yoga, we have a closer relationship to death than most. We choose to practice: to churn the inner fire, focus inward, retain our breath, guide prana, and shed layers to rise from our mats and meditation cushions awakened.
A deep, rich yoga practice prepares us for a lengthy savasana, corpse pose. Corpse pose engages us to close off all gates to our 5 senses, release attachments, and confine our energy into the heart. This pose is often taught by tightening every muscle in the body, even the bandhas, and then to articulate prana as the body releases tension. In this pose we have the great honor to bring our practice home, awakening our fullest presence within our heart, and to then guide prana upward into the crown of the head.
The moment of death will be the most important moment of our life. The nature of our death is chosen for us, by us, in the manner in which we live and tend to this life. In that one last, precious exhale we choose where our thoughts, our consciousness, will abide.
My path as a doula to the dying began at age sixteen while working in a nursing home. A few years later I found a yoga teacher training with the Himalayan Institute and community courses in Tibetan meditation (with ganden.org). Over the past 25 years, I have sat bedside to more than 100 (mostly elders) through their journey home. I have had the honor to be witness to five deaths.
The best way to know the truth of this statement by Baba Ram Das, “We are here to walk each other home,” is to pursue the practice of being with the dying. Now is the time for us yoga teachers to lead in a new era of caring for our elders. In a culture that fears death and dying, we have a superpower, a practice, a humble opportunity to share the truest gift yoga has to offer, a good death.