The Necessity of Dormancy
They clearly know how to survive without much help from us. We people persist in believing our interventions are necessary to the well-being of everything we care for and about, despite some evidence to the contrary.
This compulsion has been very much in evidence as Don and I have raised our children, who by now are not children anymore. Geoff is 22, Patrick is 16. For years Don and I behaved as if the kids could do nothing without our support and guidance. That was true when our boys were infants, but they began taking responsibility for their survival and well-being as soon as they learned to suckle, more when they grew large enough to sleep through the night, and more as they learned to walk and talk. As a mother, I evolved more slowly. With Geoff in particular I had a hard time recognizing when he was transitioning into new phases of responsibility and power. He would fuss when I resisted his frequent calls to “Do it myself, Mom.” I’ve very recently realized that is is I who has trouble with transitions.
Geoff has proven time and again that he is capable of meeting all the situations and challenges that come his way. He graduates from the University of Northern Colorado in May in four years, a feat I did not manage. He has balanced his studies with part-time jobs as he pays rent and learns how to live with roommates. He’s happy. I’m happy for him.
Last year we could have harvested more honey, but Don elected to leave 13 frames for the bees’ winter feed. He also made some bee fondant which he recently discovered they haven’t even touched, despite the sub-zero temperatures. Some beekeepers decide to do the opposite, harvesting the lion’s share of the honey and feeding their bees sugar water during winter. This is very much like the decision about whether to breast-feed my kids or not. For me, it came down to this question: Why formula feed, when my body has already provided the perfect food for my babies?
This past weekend I went to a meditation intensive at Shoshoni Yoga Retreat Center in Rollinsville. It happened right before the center closes to the public for three weeks. I like to imagine the yogis and yoginis who stay there during this time as bees nestling into their winter hive, feeding on the sweetness they have created during the active months. It reminds me that life isn’t all about flurries of activity and productivity. Dormancy has its place, too.
I explain this to students who complain that the way I teach yoga is too slow, or too gentle, or puts too much emphasis on breathing, and not enough flowing from one pose to another, that relaxation is an important component of fitness. The culture we live in has conditioned us to believe that the more effort we expend quickly the better off we will be physically, emotionally, spiritually and economically. This is an unbalanced view of what human beings need to live well. So many people know they need to incorporate more rest periods into their lives, yet they have all kinds of excuses for why it can’t happen. Far from taking time away from your productivity, periods of decompression, like what yogic breathing can provide, are reinvigorating, allow you to think more clearly, to respond to surprises with confidence and competence, and to be more content with what you produce and receive.
Most of my yoga students love Savasana, the relaxation pose traditionally done at the end of asana practice. A few do not see its point. I have been to yoga classes where teachers don’t see the point of Savasana, either. It’s an afterthought for them. I view this in the same way I view the difference between quickies and lovemaking. You may think you’re making love, but it’s really slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am. Now I’ve got nothing against quickies. They’re the angel food cake of sex. Tasty, light, fun, but not as a steady diet.
Savasana is the perfect way to gather in all that you’ve gleaned after an active yoga class. Imagine yourself as a bee, busy gathering nectar and pollen as you move from the blossom of one posture to the next. Savasana is the time when you return to the hive to deposit what you have gathered. You begin to convert it into the sweetness of honey, which bathes your being. Giving into the dormancy of Savasana is a beautiful way to end class and move into a world that desperately needs more people who take the time to gather and appreciate the sweetness and balance of a regular yoga practice.
Savasana is also called the pose of the corpse. Ideally you remain still in the pose. In my own experience it takes me a couple of minutes to shift and shimmy before I melt into the dormancy of the pose. I compare it to what happens after you turn off a car engine. For several minutes afterward, the engine pings and hisses as it adjusts to non-movement. I once has a car that bucked and jolted for a few minutes after I had turned off the ignition. It can be this way in Savasana. If the teacher allows less than five minutes for the posture, you may have just stilled your own pinging and jolting before being asked to sit up and leave class. This simply defeats the purpose of yoga, which balances doing and dormancy, effort and surrender.
As you rest in Savasana, you also have the opportunity to practice the experience of dying while you are still very much alive. You practice dissolving the tensions that pull you away from receiving gifts of bliss and equanimity Savasana’s stillness offers. You practice the art of being something other than what you do to earn a living, where you went to school, who people tell you you are, and how much you believe them.
I prefer to think our beautiful honeybees are doing Savasana right now, just as Don and I practice it in relation to the bees. The bees’ work is done for now, and they are sustaining themselves with the honey they worked so hard to make. They are resting deeply before arising to meet the warmth, abundance and promise of spring.