Corpse Pose Yoga connects with a natural part of life: Dying

Lie down on the floor. Inhale and exhale. Feel your body supported by the ground, by the earth. Breathe again.

This is the corpse pose, or Shavasana, familiar to most yoga practitioners and used for relaxation and meditation.

When Veronica Wiley became a certified end-of-life doula late last year, the longtime yoga instructor combined that experience with death doula work and facilitating nature therapy. into a single practice: the yoga of the corpse pose.

Whether someone is dealing with personal loss, overwhelmed by the amount of human loss in the world, or struggling to contemplate ecological loss, Wiley wants Corpse Pose yoga workshops to give people a place to go. feel comfortable with those feelings.

“The intent with corpse pose yoga is more to connect people with their own experiences of grief and also layer that aspect of nature,” says Wiley. “Ultimately, I wish I could use this as a way to connect with people and really facilitate conversation about grief, death and mortality – life and death are both part of nature. ”

Workshops begin with an introduction to the space, usually an outdoor location related to a funeral home. Next, Wiley moves on to guided breathing, meditation, and gentle movement.

“The physical practice of yoga is overrated in our Western culture,” says Wiley. “There’s a lot of emphasis on doing the poses the right way, in quotes. It’s much more of a therapeutic aspect of just getting people in touch with their bodies and focusing on this somatic movement.

The goal is to connect people to their hearts and minds through their bodies. For example, notes Wiley, grief can weigh down certain parts of the body such as the chest and shoulders, which people may not realize until they have the space to feel it.

Next, the group does reflective exercises, starting with gratitude and positivity and moving into less comfortable territory: considering the state of the world, the state of the environment, and personal experiences of grief. Participants can then share their thoughts with other workshop participants, although they are not obligated to do so.

Finally, the group goes into corpse pose as Wiley plays the harmonium, encouraging people to move and feel their bodies telling them they need to relax and reflect.

“I’m not the one telling someone else how to feel,” Wiley says. “It’s just a space for people to come into that connection. Part of the reason why the corpse pose is so important in yoga practice is that it is this opportunity to regularly confront and accept the idea of ​​mortality.

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Veronica Wiley helps people contemplate their death through corpse pose yoga workshops.

Catherine Cheshire

The corpse pose dates back centuries, but Wiley uses it in workshops that combine death doula training and lessons from Joanna Macy’s 2014 book Coming back to life: the work that reconnectswhich presented a framework for working with groups to deal with ecological bereavement.

As Wiley explained at a recent workshop at the Willow Farm Contemplative Center in Longmont, death doulas play a similar role to parents who bring their child for an annual doctor’s appointment that will involve an injection. . Because they know a gunshot is coming, their anxiety and fear increase, sometimes to unbearable levels that can cause blackouts. Parents guide and comfort their children, help them understand the situation, let them express their emotions and move to a calmer place.

The same goes for death doulas and their clients, says Wiley. Just as birth doulas assist in the birthing process, death doulas guide people through the experience of death, whether it is their own or that of a loved one. Death doulas predate modern medical practices such as hospice and palliative care, and now work in tandem with them to help those seeking support during the death journey.

“Births and deaths happened on the kitchen table, basically,” says Wiley. “There were people in those early communities who were there to hold space through those different transitions, and I realized that I had actually played that role before with other family friends throughout. along their dying process. But I didn’t know until late summer that it was actually something you could get trained and certified for.”

Last summer, Wiley’s father fell ill, then spent five weeks in hospital before finally passing away in July 2021. He wanted to die in his own garden. The family didn’t know how to make this happen, but finally figured it out. “The dislike that my family and the doctors all had around the conversation of: Dad is dying and what are we going to do? I think in many ways it made the process a lot more challenging and challenging,” Wiley recalls.

Already enrolled in Western Colorado University’s outdoor industry MBA program, Wiley worked with counselors to make becoming a death doula part of the master’s capstone project; Wiley completed end-of-life doula training through the International End-of-Life Doula Association in December 2021. The National End-of-Life Doula Alliance, a professional organization for death doulas, has 1,300 members and the number has increased in recent years.

Death doulas can work with people at the time of their death or connect with those who have experienced the death of someone in their life to help them heal. Through Outside Rites, Wiley offers these services along with corpse yoga workshops and other ecotherapy work like nature immersion. Together with his friend KP Harman, Wiley takes people on backpacking trips designed to help them explore and process grief.

Wiley is also part of the Colorado End of Life Collaborative, a nonprofit organization of death doulas that works with others in the death space to build connections, and partners with local morgues to include a discussion of alternative burial practices in corpse-laying workshops.

New to the mortuary scene, natural funerals offer a variety of green burial options like water cremations and body composting, as does Feldman Mortuary, one of the oldest mortuaries in the state. All are members of the emerging death-positive movement in Colorado.

“We like to engage with people who are innovating and who offer something that helps us find our limits with our own involvement in the death of our loved ones and with an awareness of our own mortality,” Seth Viddal, managing partner at Natural Funeral, said during a July 23 workshop, praising Wiley for bringing something new to the positive death scene.

Although the summer workshops have ended, Wiley plans to host virtual yoga workshops on corpse pose again this fall while continuing to build Outside Rites.

“I don’t know anyone who has lived forever,” Wiley said. “We are all going to have this experience someday, and we don’t necessarily have control over how and when it happens. So to be able to step into a space where we have a little bit more acceptance and a little bit more of an ease in having these conversations and this acknowledgment of our own mortality, I think that’s something that we could all really use as a culture . ”

And use them to help people cope with one of the most natural aspects of life: death.