Life is filled with stormy waters. Rivers are never still. Even when frozen, things are still moving around underneath. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone to help steer the way.
In the Indian epic Rāmāyaṇam, Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa began their 14 year exile in the forest by sneaking off in the middle of the night so as not to upset all those they would be leaving. Soon into their journey, they came to the Ganges River and called out to his friend Guha, the boatman, to ferry them across.
Rām asked Guha to take them across, but to also
wait an entire day before ferrying anyone else, so that no one could follow
them. Wanting to spend more time with Rām,
Guha tries to convince them to spend the night, but Rām wants to get a move on, and says he wants to leave now.
Trying again to spend more time with Rām, Guha suggests they eat some rice before they go, but Rām again orders the boat “RIGHT
As Guha readies the boat, he jokingly says to Rām, “I heard the dust of your feet
turned a stone into a woman. I hope you don’t turn my boat into a woman! Can I
at least wash your feet before you enter?”
Exasperated with this ordeal in just the first leg of their
14 year journey, Rām agrees to
allow Guha to wash his feet. They finally set off in the early morning before
everyone wakes up. Guha ferries Rām,
Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa across the Ganges river. Now that they have a
river separating them from the people of Ayodhyā, Ram takes a moment to hug Guha goodbye, and then Rāma, Sītā and Lakṣmaṇa enter the Daṃḍaka forest
to begin their exile.
Shiva’s first wife was named Sati, who was a princess. Her father, King Daksha, did not approve of their marriage AT ALL. He thought Shiva was a bit of a dirtbag – he has long dreadlocks and is covered in ash and tattoos. He hangs out in graveyards with ghouls and ghosts and is covered in snakes. He also smokes something called bhang, which is a marijuana derivative. Daksha did NOT think Shiva was prince material. Shiva and Sati got married anyway, and pretty much kept to themselves. They lived on Mount Kailash, on the outskirts of the kingdom, and let Daksha do his thing.
As part of Daksha’s political responsibilities, he was in
charge of making sure that all Vedic rituals were done properly. He was
throwing a large party (a yajña,
or ritualistic ceremony) where a goat was to be offered to the sacrificial
fire. Daksha invited EVERYONE in the kingdom, no matter who they were, EXCEPT
for Shiva and Sati. Sati was extremely upset, and told Shiva they should go to
the party anyway. Shiva thought she was crazy, and told her she could go by
herself if she wanted, but he was going to stay home and meditate.
Sati attended the party on her own, and when she arrived, Daksha started pointed and laughing at her, saying horrible things about her and Shiva, all of the attendees joined in the laughter, and it got worse and worse as the party went on. The yajña was a mockery in and of itself. The Lord of the Universe (Shiva) wasn’t even invited and was being made fun of. All Daksha truly cared about was showing off his wealth. There was no truth or honor behind this Vedic ritual. Sati became more and more upset, and decided to offer herself to the fire, and threw herself into the flames.
Shiva heard about the
death of Sati and was completely distraught. He was angry at Daksha and felt
guilty about letting Sati attend the party on her own, so out of pure anger, grief
and despair, he ripped out one of his dreadlocks, threw it to the earth, and
out from the earth rose Vīrabhadra
with a sword in his hands (in the form of Warrior I) (vīra = hero/warrior,
bhadra = friend).
Vīrabhadra is Shiva’s warrior friend, but also the embodiment
of all of Shiva’s emotional distress. He is also just a foot-soldier; he only
does what he is told, without any thought behind it, following orders without
second-guessing. Shiva sends Vīrabhadra to the yajña to avenge the death of Sati. Vīrabhadra again
bursts through the earth with sword in hand. Spots Daksha across the way and
points his sword at him (Warrior II) and chops off his head.
Shiva arrives soon after to check out the situation, and
immediately regrets what he’s done. Now Shiva does this a lot – he chops
people’s heads off out of anger, and only regrets his actions afterwards. He
always feels bad, and will bring them back to life with the head of the nearest
animal, which happens to be the goat that was never sacrificed. So now Daksha
is a part man, part goat. Shiva also chops heads off out of compassion, so that
we cut off the head of the ego, learn from our mistakes, and make changes for a
hopefully better future. Daksha now has to live with the head of a goat, but
hopefully does better this time around…
Shiva asks Vīrabhadra to pick Sati up out of the sacrificial
fire and they fly home (in the form of Warrior III) to give her a proper
burial. As they are flying home, pieces of Sati’s burnt body fall into the
ocean and across the land, and there are Shaivanists, or devotees of Shiva, who
have what they believe to be actual relics of Sati. Sati was reincarnated
thousands of years later as Parvati, who became Shiva’s second wife and Shakti
a lot happening in this story, but mostly the characters are an allegory for
the human condition. How many times have you acted out of anger and regretted
your actions after? What would happen if you blindly followed orders without
questioning why you are doing what you are doing? How does it make you feel
when you hear unkind words? Are you practicing yoga just to show off your
skills, or is there a deeper meaning behind the practice?
The physical warrior āsanas can be quite challenging when held, and give us an opportunity to explore emotions that come up. Are you clenching your jaw, biting your lips, scrunching your eyebrows (your lips and eyebrows cannot help – they just make your face look pretty! They try really hard though 😉 Is your breathing jagged, or smooth? You cannot remove the mind from the body, and what you do with the body affects the mind. These practices involve the whole being. The warrior poses offer an opportunity to smooth this out – to find a grace an ease that allows us to embody a spiritual warrior rather than chopping through life.
All the money in the world won’t buy us happiness, but neither will ditching life to go meditate in a cave. There must be something in the middle – a way to live this life we have with an embodiment of happiness and joy – even with the annoying people on the streets of NYC, and loud teenagers on the subway 🙂
The arm balance eka pada kaundinyasana also requires a graceful balance – moving forward enough to lift the back leg off the floor, while still keeping the head and chest lifted – all while having the courage to possibly fall out of it!
When it’s cold and rainy in NYC, maybe you want to curl up in a Child’s Pose (bālāsana) and hear stories of Baby Krishna (Gopāla)?
In connection to this month’s focus at Jivamukti Yoga, maybe we start to look at our yoga practice with the playfulness of a child (Bāla) rather than setting goals or striving to achieve something that in this particular moment might be unattainable. Maybe in each āsana we embody the animal form we are coming into rather than worrying so much about getting it perfect (this by all means does not mean we don’t try, or keep safe anatomical alignment, but more along the lines of not becoming angry or disappointed if it’s not “perfect” right now. Practice and all is coming!)
The “goal” of yoga (if you must have one) is to find the joy and happiness of a child in our everyday lives!
Garuda’s mother, Vinata, lost a bet against her sister (due
to trickery and deceit, but that is a whole other story), and was obligated to
serve the Nagas, or snake kingdom, the duration of her life.
While growing up, Garuda was obliged to take orders from the
snakes, waiting on them hand and foot, just like Cinderella, but did not
understand why he, as king of the birds, was required to listen to the snakes.
After some investigating, he found out about his mother’s debt and asked the
Nagas how he could set her free.
They agreed to alleviate Vinata from her debt if Garuda
brought them a pot of immortality nectar (amṛta). The nectar was being
guarded by the devas, who surrounded it with three Indiana Jones type booby
The first was a large ring of fire that Garuda extinguished
by taking the water of the rivers in his mouth and pouring it on the fire. The
second was a mechanical door with sharp rotating blades. Garuda wrapped himself
in his wings, shrunk down in size and was able to slip through the door with
ease. Garuda finally arrived where the nectar was being held, and found it was
being guarded by two huge snakes (Indiana Jones would be in BIG TROUBLE!)
Garuda rapidly flapped his wings, creating a dust storm that blinded the
snakes, and while they couldn’t see, attacked them with his beak.
Garuda took the nectar into his mouth without swallowing it,
and started flying home. Along the way, Indra caught up to him and asked Garuda
to return the nectar, as this was how the Gods and Goddesses maintained their
immortality. Garuda promised that once the nectar was delivered to the Nagas,
he would make it possible for Indra to take it back.
Garuda finally arrived home and the Nagas could hardly wait
to drink the nectar. He placed the nectar in a pot on the grass in front of
them, and asked if his mother could now be set free. Greedy to drink the
nectar, they immediately agreed. Garuda convinced them that before they drink
it, they should perform a cleansing ritual.
As the Nagas went off to clean, Indra swept in and took the pot of nectar. When the Nagas returned, they saw a few drops of the nectar in the grass and started to lap it up with their tongues. The nectar was so powerful that it split their tongues in two, and because it was only a few drops, instead of becoming immortal, they would periodically shed their skin. From then on snakes were born with a split tongue and could shed their skin, and Garuda and his mother were free from their debt.
The next Jivamukti in Paradise retreat will be in Roatan, Honduras, January 11 -18, 2020.
A $500 non-refundable deposit is required to secure your spot.
email@example.com for registration or questions
Pricing (Sign up by Oct. 31): Single $2400 Double $2100
(After Oct. 31st) Single $2600 Double $2300
What this includes (a lot!)
2 yoga classes/day and meditation with April
7 nights lodging
Welcome cocktail party
3 Vegetarian Meals/Day
Round-trip airport transfer in Roatan
A/C option in all rooms
Daily Maid Service
Full Access to all of Retreat Center (see link below)
Unlimited Sea Kayaking
1 Snorkle Trip (some of the best snorkeling/diving in the world)
Las Sirenas sunset Cruise
Hike to Picacho Peak
Additional excursions/spa treatments
ROOMS AVAILABLE (11 Rooms Total):
• There are 4 single rooms (or Double if you are sharing a bed) • 4 more rooms that can be single (1 bed) or double (2 beds) • 3 rooms with two beds each
• Retreat Location- Paya Bay Resort https://www.payabay.com (I recommend looking on a computer rather than phone – easier to navigate) • Airport – fly to Roatan (RTB) • Travel time from airport to retreat center – 1 Hour • Closest Towns – 15 & 30 minutes away
We live in a technological world, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! We have become interconnected with other human beings in ways most of us couldn’t have ever imagined! I wouldn’t be able to connect with most of you if not for this technological world! But there should be a happy medium…we cannot solely rely on technology, and we cannot go off to live in a cave somewhere to meditate all the time and ditch life (Bharati also spoke about this at Ananda Ashram this weekend)
Here are some thoughts on this by Thich Nhat Hanh, from his book The Sun My Heart:
“Meditators have always known that they must use their own eyes and the language of their own times to express their insight. Wisdom is a living stream, not an icon to be preserved in a museum. Only when a practitioner finds the spring of wisdom in his or her own life can it flow to future generations. All of us must keep the torch of wisdom glowing in order to light the path ahead.
Our insight and our language are inseparable from the times in which we live. For many years, the East followed the West down the path of technological and material development, to the point of neglecting its own spiritual values. In our world, technology is the main force behind economics and politics, but scientists in the West have begun to see something similar to what the spiritual disciplines of the East discovered long ago. If we can survive our times, the gap that separates science and spirituality will close, and East and West will meet one another on the path to discover true mind. We can start working towards convergence right now, using our own daily mindful lives.”
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.
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?
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?
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.
In this challenging
arm balance, the bound leg represents the rope, or gāla, tied around Gālava’s waist, and the
extended leg is the tail of the rope being held by his mother. In order to
maintain the āsana, a counter-balance must be present, and it looks almost like
a see-saw. Bringing weight into the hands, the upper torso moves towards the
earth while maintaining a lift in the head and sternum. At the same time, the
back leg lifts up off the floor, all the way up towards the sky, to an angle at
which the body is in one straight line from head to toe, and looks like a
see-saw. Once the back leg lifts high enough, past the fulcrum point of the
front leg resting on the arms, the āsana feels a bit weightless, like you are
The story of how Gālava received his name also lends itself as a reminder that there must be a balance between our yoga practice and our everyday lives. Ideally we are living our lives in a joyful, yogic way, but we also can’t ditch our family, friends, and responsibilities just to practice. It is easy to become seduced by the benefits of a daily yoga practice – it has a magical affect on our body, mind and soul! But this might start to be an issue if you are missing dinner with your family or friends, or your kid’s soccer game just to get a class in. A Jīvanmukta is one who has found liberation in THIS LIFETIME. Which means that you have reached a state of enlightenment, but you are still living in this current world, in this body, with the same everyday responsibilites. You are just not affected by the ups and downs of everyday life. (Supposedly…I am not there yet!)