If you do too much too quickly, your fire will burn out. If you take on more then you can handle, your fire will burn out. If you try to shove your knee to your ankle in agnistambhasana before it’s ready, your fire (and your knee!) will burn out! Take things slow, breath deep and take it all in. Practice and all is coming.
Bharadvāja was a dedicated yoga student and devoted his entire life to studying the vedas. All he did, all day, every day, was study. He studied so much, that he exhausted an entire lifetime doing so.
Upon his rebirth, Bharadvāja did the same thing all over again. He thought the more he studied, the more likely it was that he’d break the cycle of saṃsāra, the continuous circle of birth, death, and rebirth. He again exhausted an entire lifetime just studying.
In his third lifetime, Bharadvāja again did the same thing. At this point people all over the kingdom would whisper to each other about the weird hermit who never left his home and only studied yoga. He was giving yoga a bad name! Who wants to study yoga if your just trapped inside all day reading thousand-paged books and never having any fun? He had no family, no friends, and was always alone. What kind of life is it if you can’t share it with others?
At the end of this third lifetime, Shiva came to Bharadvāja at his deathbed. Bharadvāja thought that this was finally it! That he knew the vedas so well that he would not have to be re-born and could live with the Gods and Goddesses. But oh was he wrong! Shiva scolded him (in a loving gentle way), and asked what on earth Bharadvāja thought he was doing? He spends all this time studying, but what good is all this yogic knowledge if he isn’t sharing it with others? Why keep the joy of yoga to himself when he could help others find joy and happiness as well?
In his fourth lifetime, Bharadvāja finally understood. Rather than living his hermit lifestyle, he became a teacher. And not only was he a teacher, but he also had more friends than he could have ever imagined. Rather than finding yoga in just books, he was living it.
At the end of this lifetime, Shiva again came to visit Bharadvāja. “You did it,” Shiva exclaimed! “You finally get it! You no longer have to be subjected to karmas and re-birth. Come let’s go, you’ll love it in “The Good Place.” But Bharadvāja refused, instead choosing to again be re-born as a teacher, deciding that living this great joyful life was all he needed.
King Kaushika had absolutely EVERYTHING. He was extremely wealthy, had the largest army in the land, and had anything you could possibly think of at the tip of his fingers.
One day, while traveling with his large army, he came across the small, humble hermitage of the sage Vaśiṣṭha. They stopped to pay their respects, and as was customary, Vaśiṣṭha invited them to stay for a meal. Kaushika refused, saying there was no way that Vaśiṣṭha’s small home could provide enough food for the entire army. Vaśiṣṭha insisted, and Kaushika finally agreed, thinking they would be lucky if they even received a piece of bread each.
As the evening went on, more and more food kept coming out, and the entire army was completely satisfied. Kaushika was baffled, and asked Vaśiṣṭha how this was possible. Vaśiṣṭha told Kaushika that he had a magical cow named Nadini, that could provide whatever was asked for. Kaushika had never heard of a magical cow! He didn’t have one and he has everything, and demanded Vaśiṣṭha hand over the cow. Vaśiṣṭha was appalled. Nandini was part of the family, and Vaśiṣṭha could never give a family member away. Kaushika demanded Vaśiṣṭha give him the cow, or else he would declare war and just take the cow. Vaśiṣṭha said “Fine, go right ahead.” Kaushika thought Vaśiṣṭha was crazy. How could this little yogic sage defeat the largest army in the land? He couldn’t go back on his word, and so they went to war.
Battle after battle Vaśiṣṭha consistently won until Kaushika and his army couldn’t take it anymore and surrendered. Baffled again, Kaushika wondered how Vaśiṣṭha was able to defeat him. He realized there must be more to this yoga stuff than he realized, decided to give up everything except what he deemed essential, and went off to study yoga. After many, many years of study King Kaushika also became a yogic sage. His took the name Viśvāmitra (Viś = expansive/universe; mitra = friend) and dedicated his life to taking care of others and spreading the teachings of yoga.
Similar to King Kaushika having everything, viśvāmitrāsana also has a bit of everything! It is a side bend, shoulder opener, hip opener, standing āsana and arm balance all in one! You can not take this one by force! What’s interesting is the elements of vaśiṣṭhāsana (side plank) are also here, with the arm holding the foot representing the bow and arrow of war. Slow and steady wins this battle, and with patience you will find expansion and openess to all.
Śiva and Viṣṇu were hanging out… Viṣṇu was sitting on his serpent couch ĀdiŚeṣa, who is also sometimes referred to as Anantā. They were listening to the beat of Śiva’s ḍamaru drum, and Śiva was performing his cosmic dance. Viṣṇu became so captivated by the dance of Śiva that he started to vibrate to the rhythm – becoming heavier and heavier, starting to crush ĀdiŚeṣa.
When the dance was over, the weight was lifted. ĀdiŚeṣa was so amazed by this by this dramatic change he expressed a wish for legs so he can learn to dance.
At the same exact time, Gonika, a dovited yogini, was praying for a worthy son to pass along her knowledge of yoga. Viṣṇu, who is the sustainer of the world and yogic knowledge, sent ĀdiŚeṣa down to earth. He fell from the heavens into the palms of Gonika (legs and all!) and she named her new son Patañjali (pat = to fall; añjali = palms).
Patañjali grew up to be a great vedic scholar. He went through thousands and thousands of pages of veda (so we didn’t have to! Thanks Patañjali!), took what he thought was the most essential, and strung them together. He compiled three books: Purification of Speech, Purification of Body and Purification of Mind. The Purification of Mind is what we commonly refer to as The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.
Anantā means infinite or endless, and Ādi means first. It refers to the state of yoga – timeless, beyond birth, death, and all changes in between—a limitless state of joy and contentment. Anantāsana helps us cultivate this sense of contentment and equanimity. It requires a bit of balance, flexibility, and core strength – all aspects we need in our every day lives!
My friend Amanda just posted this on her blog and I wanted to share! Please read! It’s quite yogic 😉
I saw this quote and the resonated with the hell out of me. Parenting. Social media. Parties. Parking lots. Everywhere we go. Have you seen that episode of Black Mirror called “Nosedive”? Here is the Wikipedia synopsis of the episode: “The episode is set in a (futuristic) world where people can rate each other from one to […]How you like me now? — Thought Salad
Anjaneya was the son of Vayu, the wind God, and Anjana, a mortal woman. Because of his demi-God status, Anjaneya had superpowers – he could grow really large, and shrink really small, he had super-strength and could leap to great heights. Because of this, Anajaneya was unintentionally a bit of a troublemaker as a child.
One morning, Anjaneya saw the sun in the sky and thought it was a mango. He leapt up to eat the sun, but before he could, Surya, the sun god, threw a lightning bolt that hit Anjaneya in the jaw (hanu in Sanskrit) and he fell to the earth.
The Gods and Goddess were in distress. This little guy with all of his powers could cause the destruction of the world. They agreed to revive him, but with short-term memory, so that he would never remember the powers he had. He was given the nickname Hanumān, in reference to his broken jaw, was sent to foster with Sugriva the monkey king and was given the form of a monkey to fit in with his new family. Hanumān lived most of his life with no knowledge of the true power he held within.
When Hanumān was grown, he met Rām in the Dandaka forest and joined him on his journey to save Sītā from the evil demon Rāvaṇa. After travelling for many days, they arrived at a large ocean that was separating them from the island of Lanka, where Sītā was being held. Hanumān was distraught and felt defeated. They had come all this way, and all he wanted was to help his friend Rām. He was about to give up when his friend Jambavana, King of the Bears, whispered in his ear that Hanumān was more powerful than he realized. With that subtle reminder, Hanumān, out of pure love, devotion and joy for Sītā and Rām, and without thinking about tight hamstrings, quadriceps or psoas muscles, leapt across the ocean to the island of Lanka to save Sītā.
Most of us are more capable that we realize, and we all have so much power within, it is just clouded sometimes, by physical and/or emotional pain. We are all stronger than we know, and can handle A LOT. Most of the time, when we finally leap across what seems like a very large chasm of an ocean, we say to ourselves, “Well, that wasn’t so bad!” On the other hand, sometimes we don’t realize how powerful we actually are. That our thoughts, words and actions, hold so much power, that we don’t realize how what we put out into the world affects the other living beings around us.
Hanumānāsana requires a balance of strength, trust, ease, grace, and a bit of fearlessness. Rather than focusing on tightness and un-comfortableness of the āsana, you can return to the intention you set in the beginning of class. Offering the efforts of your practice to someone other than yourself is one way of bringing a sense of mindfulness into the practice. Let go of what is holding you back!
Video edited by https://www.facebook.com/jivamuktiyoganyc/
In an essay posted on audubon.com entitled ‘What Do Birds Do For Us’, Barry Yeoman writes about a tree in the American Northwest called the white bark pine, that both humans and other animals have come to rely on.
Its large seeds feed grizzlies and black bears. The tree community provides a habitat for deer, elk and raptors (the birds, not dinosaurs, although they are related 😉 The white bark pine tree grows all the way up to the tree line, so they are effective at protecting drinking water supplies. The mountains they grow on are essentially water towers – equivalent to the water towers we see on the roofs of buildings in NYC. The tree’s roots hold the soil in place, preventing erosion, preventing avalanches. The roots of the tree are what stop the mountains from crumbling to pieces. The shade of the canopy slows down the spring snowmelt, preventing flooding from occurring.
The white bark pine tree’s seeds are dispersed by just one bird! One! This bird is called the Clark’s Nutcracker, and is a black and white winged cousin to the crow. The nutcracker has a long beak that it can use to open up the pine cones to reach its seeds. The bird either eats the seeds or stores them in the back of their throats. It then replants them, at the exact location (!) and depth (!) for the tree to reproduce.
Mountains = water towers
Trees = prevention of avalanche and flooding, protect drinking water, provide shelter & food
Birds = reproduction of trees, stops the world from ending
Humans = benefit from all this magic, cause unnecessary destruction
So what would happen if this one bird, the Clark’s Nutcracker, disappeared? The trees would disappear; natural disasters prevail.
This is just one example of how everything on this earth is interconnected and interdependent on each other. In a lecture by Alan Watts he discusses the idea that everything on this planet – humans, flowers, weeds, birds, bees; EVERYTHING – only exists because everything around it also exists. Flowers only exist because of bees, and bees only exist because of flowers.
The rainforests of South America exist because of dust storms in Africa. The temperate climate of the American Northeast exists because of the rainforest in South America, and so on and so on.
Unfortunately, humans have a hard time seeing all this. Most of us only see what’s right in front of us. We don’t see the connection between tiny little bees and the fact that they pollinate 70% of the global food source. We don’t see the connection between the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket and all of the human and animal labor that brought them there: farmers, pollinators, harvesters, bundlers, truckers, etc.
We don’t see the big picture, so then we say, “I am only one person, how does anything I do make a difference?” Multiply that apathy by the 7.7 billion human population, and we have a big issue.
So with global warming becoming a legitimate, present moment threat, what can we do?
In chapter 3 verse 21 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that a great person leads by example, setting standards that are followed by others all across the world.
Humans have the unique ability of being the only animal that caused this mess in the first place, and the only one that can do something about it. If we take a cue from Krishna’s suggestion, and we lead by example, others will see what we are doing. It can be subtle, you don’t need to force your views on others. Maybe the person behind you in your local coffee shop sees your reusable coffee mug, in the supermarket they see your reusable shopping bags, in the bodega they see you reach for the tofu wrap, on the park bench they see your reusable utensils. Maybe they go out to get their own reusable stuff, maybe it sparks a conversation. You are playing your part, and saving the planet spreads like wildflowers.
The āsana practice can also teach us about the interconnectedness of it all. The alignment of tāḍāsana (mountain seat) exists within EVERY SINGLE OTHER ĀSANA WE COME INTO! No joke!
Equal weight in both feet, front and back, side to side
Calf muscles draw down towards the earth, front shins back, outer shins draw towards each other
As the lower legs are moving down and back, the upper half of the leg is lifting up – hamstrings lift, quadriceps lift, glutes lift (but without clenching the butt – New Yorkers do this too much already!), outer thighs externally rotate, as the inner thighs draw towards each other
The lower belly is pulling in and up as the tail bone draws slightly down, in a way that the pubic bone and tail bone are drawing towards each other and the hips are neutral
Rib cage lifts up away from the hips creating length in the side body, and the lower ribs pull slightly in (but remember to draw the tail bone back down!)
Sternum lifts up (with the ribs still pulling in!)
Shoulders move down and back
Upper arms externally rotate, as the lower arms internally rotate.
Chin parallel to the earth
The entire lower half of the body is grounding down into the earth and the upper half of the body lifts up
All of the joints are stacked: head above shoulders, shoulders above hips, hips above knees, knees above ankles – the spine is in its full integrity
I’m not going to go through another āsana here, but try applying this alignment in any and every other pose. If you don’t believe me, come talk to me 🙂
The āsanas all have the same physical alignment, they are just shaped different. Similarly, everything on this planet, living and inanimate, is made of the same stuff, we are just shaped different.
The mountain, or let’s say Earth, is also the connection between all of the other forms we come into. We come into the form of warriors and sages and saints, of animals- dogs, monkeys, birds, frogs, fish, insects. We come into the form of flowers and trees. We come into the form of tools – compasses, plows, boats. The mountain (Earth) is the common factor. Everything on this planet, even what we think of as inanimate objects, comes from this earth.
The practice of yoga, both physical and philosophical, teaches us how to relate and connect to everyone and everything around us in a meaningful and supportive way.
Mountain/ Tāḍāsana is also sometimes called Samasthiti – equal standing. The alignment of the āsana is equally balanced – front/back, side/side, top/bottom – but also we are on equal standing with the Earth. This Earth takes care of us – offers us food, water, shelter, a way of life, but we should take care of her just as much.
Peace, love and vegetables,
Thousands of years after Matsya the fish received the teachings of yoga from Shiva, he was reincarnated as Matsyendra (sometimes also referred to as Matsyendranath), which means Lord of the Fishes (matsya = fish, indra = lord, nath = refers to Nath group).
Matsyendra was a Nath Warrior, who was also a half man, half fish (a mer-man!) The Nath Warriors were a power-hungry group of people during the 10th-14th centuries who would do whatever it took to become more powerful – pillaging villages, tearing down forests, destroying everything around them without giving a second thought to the destruction they caused.
Matsyendra had heard about this strange group of people who hung out in caves deep in the woods meditating and contorting their bodies in all sorts of ways – and they also had superpowers. These yogis, as they were called, could predict the future, become invisible, levitate, had super-strength, could go a long time without food or drink, had super-sonic hearing, and so much more. The Nath Warriors thought that if they had all of these powers, they would be invincible and could take over the world! So they took a break from destroying the world to study yoga. Eventually they transformed and realized there was much more to life than taking over the world. Through long and consistent practice (abhyāsa) but also non-attachments to the results of yoga (vairāgyā) they found happiness, joy and bliss, and became the Nath Yogis, rather than the Nath Warriors.
Matsyendra shared these physical yogic practices with Swami Svatmarama, who wrote them down, and they were passed down to us in the form of the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā. Each chapter of the HYP starts off with an invocation to the Lord Shiva who was the first to pass down the teachings of yoga.
In an āsana class we take the form of Ardha Matsyendrāsana (sometimes referred to as seated spinal twist) as an homage to the lineage of teachers who passed down the teachings of yoga either directly or indirectly to us. The upper body represents the torso of a man, while the folded legs resemble the tail of a fish. This āsana is not only a twist, but also an outer hip opener (on the side you are twisting). It promotes spinal health and flexibility, and also stimulates our digestive function. We typically twist to the right first to allow food to move up the ascending colon, and then to the left down the descending colon.
I am so excited to share a new project I am working on with Jivamukti NYC! All of the yoga poses have Sanskrit names that either refer to an anatomical alignment, or are based on a mythological story. Matsyāsana, Aṣṭāvakrāsana, Hanumanāsana, Viśvāmitraāsana – these are just 4 examples of the 50 stories I will be telling over the next year!
“The myths behind the asanas are one of the most profound tools for giving you intention, energy, focus, insight, and an expansive view of your asana practice – stepping far outside the simple lines and shapes normally understood in these moments. Context from these stories gives you so much more background and understanding in a conversation that is not just physical.” – Jivamukti Yoga NYC
The characters that appear in these stories are often Gods and Goddesses with magical powers, but each and every one of the characters contain human emotion and actions that we can all relate to, or have experienced in our own lives. The āsanas contain so much more depth than just physical exercise. They are the embodiment of our lives that we are working through each and every day.
Every Monday we will release weekly installments of the mythological stories the yoga āsanas are based on. The first installment: Matsya the Fish.
This past December I travelled to Australia for the first time. I spent time in Sydney, Melbourne, and the Blue Mountains. I taught some yoga classes, hit up every beach possible, went to art galleries, and went on bush walks. But the only thing I really wanted was to see kangaroo in their natural habitat.
Much like deer in the United States, there is an over-population of ‘roo in Australia, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to do. A friend who lives in the valley of the Blue Mountains told me she has kangaroo in her backyard pretty much all day everyday, so she offered to pick me up from where I was staying and take me to her home. We drove about 40 minutes to her house and were hanging out for about an hour without a single ‘roo in sight. None on the drive there, none in her backyard. I had pretty much given up hope and while my friends went inside for some tea, I decided to walk around the garden. I had been outside for a while, and started to head back in when I saw a flicker in the corner of my eye. I was sure it had to be a squirrel, but when I looked I found an entire kangaroo family in front of me – mom, dad, and toddler joey! I spent a good 15 minutes hanging out with my ‘roo friends before they headed off into the woods. (See video below).
I compared kangaroo to deer in the U.S., and that is pretty much what they are. Although they are not evolutionary related (kangaroos are marsupials), they are very similar; they look at you the same way, live in the same type of habitat, travel with their family, have similar ears, are both herbivores, and, as I mentioned earlier, are over-populated and sometimes a nuisance. Aside from how they take care of their young, there is one big difference – how they move around. While a deer can move forward, backwards, and side to side (although as Bambi has taught us, sometimes quite clumsily), kangaroo can only move in a forward direction. They are completely unable to move in reverse, but they can pivot quickly to change direction with the use of their tail.
Similarly, in our own human lives, we can only move forward. Physically we can move in all different directions – forward, backward, sideways, turn upside down and bend over backwards. Time-wise we can only move forward. Yet many of us are stuck in the past – we ruminate and agonize over things that have happened – words we regret, actions we wish we could change. We even tell ourselves that things will never change – that we will always be miserable, never have enough money, find the perfect partner, always have tight hamstrings (!). We tell ourselves these things as if they were hard truths. When the truth is that everything changes AND we can always pivot in a new direction.
There are many ways to look at the concept of truth, or satya in Sanskrit:
Within the realm of yogic philosophy we are told that the only thing that is True or Real is that which never changes. That there is something within all of us that is a constant, and this is what the quest is within a yogic practice; our Holy Grail; the journey of finding Ātma–bōdha, or Self-knowledge.
In the realm of science there are definitely things that we can take as truth (for now anyway) – the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The Earth is round; the Earth and the other planets in our solar system revolve around the sun; Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, just to name a few. But even these scientific truths have changed. It was once thought that the Earth was flat, and that the sun revolved around the Earth. As science progresses, what we once thought of as truth is suddenly not. What I am absolutely sure of is that it cannot be proven that you will always be miserable and that your hamstrings will always be tight…
In a relative sense, in our everyday lives, EVERYTHING CHANGES. Our bodies change, our hair changes, clothes, jobs, the people we hang out with, life situations, our āsana practice, EVERYTHING CHANGES. And although we can’t change something that has already happened in the past, the truth is we can make different choices in the present moment. If we are not happy with something in our lives, if we recognize that something needs to change, but we feel like it never will, then that is the first step! Hopefully making choices that are the benefit to ourselves and others.
I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do. Most of us don’t like change – it is hard to let go, even of misery, and is very often painful, but this challenge is what allows us to grow. In every single yoga āsana we are moving in opposing directions. In tāḍāsana (mountain seat), we are grounding down to lift up taller; in utthita parsvakonāsana (extended angle), we are pushing into the back leg while our top arm and the crown of our skull (amongst other things happening) are reaching forward. It is the opposing directions that allow us to feel expansive and grow. Similarly, in life, we are often pulled in opposing directions. We are trying to make changes and move forward, but are being dragged back by those incessant thoughts of the past. It is within this challenge that we can find growth, and maybe discover new truths. Just like a kangaroo, we can pivot, and then keep moving forward.