At the end of yoga class my students are invited to participate in Savasana, which means ‘corpse pose.’ This initially seems quite morbid, so an explanation is required here. The idea behind meditation while in Savasana, where you lie in supine motionless, is to experience a sort of sensory deprivation and then an awakening with renewed perspective.
Yogis believe the spirit is everlasting and material existence is quite temporary. The ‘veil of illusion,’ called Maya, obscures this reality unless we are willing to remove the veil to see the transient existence we are currently experiencing. It can be difficult to accept mortality but there are distinct benefits in understanding this according to yogic wisdom.
Many stories have been written about near-death experiences. One of my favorite books about this topic is written by Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander, called ‘Proof of Heaven.’ For me, Dr. Alexander’s story is fascinating because prior to contracting E. coli meningitis, which put him in a comma for a week, he was not accepting of such ideas as having a soul or belief there is heaven. His story takes a stunning turn during his near-death experience.
While in a comma Dr. Alexander describes an incredible journey that takes him to the Divine Creator, “In this case, the ‘mother’ was God, the Creator, the Source who is responsible for making the universe and all in it. This Being was so close that there seemed to be no distance at all between God and myself. Yet at the same time, I could sense the infinite vastness of the Creator, could see how completely minuscule I was by comparison. I will occasionally use Om as the pronoun for God because I originally used that name in my writings after my coma. ‘Om’ was the sound I remembered hearing associated with that omniscient, omnipotent, and unconditionally loving God, but any descriptive word falls short.” (p.47)
You might notice the term ‘Om’ is a mantra practiced by yogis to invoke the essence of the universe. Although we don’t chant in my studio, I sometimes mention that the Sanskrit phrase ‘Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti’ (which loosely translated means ‘universe, peace, peace, peace’) can be used as a silent mantra during Savasana.
Dr. Alexander’s experience points to a sort of rebirth after his near-death experience. His outlook on life changes dramatically as he reflects on his cosmic journey, “For an instant, the worlds met. My world here on earth, where I was a doctor and father and husband. And that world out there – a world so vast that as you journeyed in it you could lose your very sense of your earthly self and become a pure part of the cosmos, the God-soaked and love-filled darkness.” (p.169)
This description is precisely what the yogis refer to when the ‘veil of illusion,’ or Maya, is removed. It is the realization of a greater reality beyond our material existence. Savasana can offer an opportunity to experience this each time we practice it, as we awaken from meditation with a renewed sense of reality.
Another fascinating example of a near-death experience revealing a sort of rebirth is the story of Anita Moorjani. In Anita Moorjani’s book, ‘Dying To Be Me,’ Moorjani speaks of her miraculous recovery from grave illness. She describes the moments before her impending death and her transition to another plane of existence. Moorjani can feel a sense of heightened awareness and a feeling of profound unconditional love.
An intriguing realization takes place during Anita Moorjani’s hospitalization; her pure conscious state begins to expand beyond the boundaries of her body while in a comma. She can hear conversation amongst hospital staff down the hall outside her normal range of audible sound. Her brother’s rush to purchase a plane flight to be at her bedside is detected by Moorjani, and she has an awareness of her deceased father’s presence.
During her ‘near-death experience’ Moorjali was told by her father and a friend who had ‘crossed over’ to go back to her body; that she was to live life fearlessly. Returning to her body, Anita Moorjani’s life had changed forever. Stunned medical staffers were unable to explain this miracle.
Dr. Eben Alexander and Anita Moorjani each speak of a utopian world lying just on the other side of this material plane of existence. Each of their experiences profoundly changed their lives. The stories mirror yogic literature written in ancient times about the essence of reality that is too often concealed by the veil of illusion,’ or Maya.
These stories are extreme examples of spiritual rebirth. They do, however, offer some hope for a heavenly existence in the afterlife. Savasana practiced with this inspiration can help us to accept a deeper reality obscured from our worldly view.
I must say, I am from a family of healthy skeptics, so it is with a sense of suspended disbelief I weigh the possibility that the near death experience is more than a dream state. However, I have had a personal experience in what I believe to be a cosmic message. In a lucid dream my Father, who had passed away, appeared to me. I have never felt anything so real... ever. Dad gave to me my mantra, “Love, just love,” which I practice each time I am in Savasana so that I can be reminded (in a sort of second-chance rebirth) what really matters in life.