It may just be me, but I think one should never, ever tell a senior citizen to pose like a corpse.
Nevertheless, in a recent article in a periodical expressly written for “mature” Americans,* readers were advised to assume the “corpse pose.” My discomfort with that directive was not allayed by the description that followed.
Lie flat on your back, pillow under your head, eyes closed. Allow your feet to play to the sides. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms facing up. Then relax, surrender to the floor, and breathe deeply.
Up until being told to “breathe,” one might rightly be confused with precisely how we are emulating a corpse.
While I make no claim to understand what it means to “surrender to the floor,” I can understand how body posture has become a valued part of yoga. After all, even without the counsel of a yogi, I learned at an early age the sheer joy and peace of lying on my back with eyes closed.
I don’t wish to impugn the benefits of yoga; I wish that I were able to master my physical body half as well as many of them do. However, I would like to suggest to the yoga community that they re-label their corpse pose.
Admittedly, advocates for maintaining this verbiage can state it is clearly not intended to refer to a literal cadaver. In arguing this they are simply being human. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “Studies in Words”—“Like all philosophers, Aristotle gives words the definitions which will be most useful for his own purpose.” This approach is not, of course, the domain of philosophers alone.
The fact is that there are perfectly good words that could be substituted which do not reference a lifeless body. “Reclined,” “Reposed,” or even “Resting” or “Sleeping” come readily to mind.
Of course, I may be missing something here. Perhaps the allusion to a corpse is intentional? Perhaps the image of dissipation of energy and effort is expressly intended to be similar to a comatose state? Perhaps that is what becoming one with the floor is hinting at? Flesh to floor . . . ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
In this case, it might be clearer if we were provided with a definition of what the title of the pose actually means. I suppose that practitioners may learn this as part of their lessons, but to those on the “outside,” the label seems slightly off-putting.
As Lewis wrote in the aforementioned essay:
The fact that [writers] define it at all is itself a ground for scepticism. Unless we are writing a dictionary, or a text-book of some technical subject, we define our words only because we are in some measure departing from their real current sense. Otherwise there would be no purpose in doing so.
Thus, if “corpse” here doesn’t mean what we normally understand it to, we might benefit from a brief definition or explanation of the users’ intent.
This matter—the proper use of the precise word that will be clearly understood—is a concern for all communicators. Writers need to remain vigilant that their own vocabulary or metaphors do not confuse.
One last caveat for those who practice yoga. If you seek to master the corpse pose, be cautious in just how well you perfect it. Please stop short of emulating death so well that your resting body is discovered and a crime scene established.
* AARP the Magazine is published by the organization formerly known as the American Association of Retired People. Apparently, the sound “AARP” is considered more dignified than the original title. It remains a requirement, however, that members have survived at least a half century before applying for membership.