Śavāsana: The Gesture of Death

Hans-Georg Gadamer, in his monumental Truth and Method (1960) describes philosophical hermeneutics as a process of self-understanding; a play between the strange and the familiar, where all interpretation tells us as much about ourselves as it does about anything else. Gadamer’s work is concerned with the interpretation of texts, but here I want to examine this play between familiarity and strangeness in relation to yogic-tantric practice known as śavāsana.1

Yoga is an activity which has become familiar to most of us. Today it is a household word, everyone knows what yoga is. It is found in gyms and health clubs, in spas and studios, and we see images of yoga everywhere, in magazines, advertisements, and movies. Usually understood as a series of physical stretches, perhaps with some breathing, and often including some form of relaxation and perhaps a sitting meditation or mindfulness technique. And yet, yoga is a very strange activity. Through yogic-tantric practice, I take up my body, my unconscious activities, my everyday deeds, and my scattered thoughts, and I attempt to refine them into something unified and ultimately divine. This goes against our usual everyday understanding of the world as a place where we survive, manipulate, and project onto existence. Yoga has become familiar: a fitness program, a stretching technique, a way to de-stress. But I think there is a real need to preserve this strangeness of yoga-tantra.

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