Arjuna was the greatest archer in the world, but not always! It took a lot of hard work, persistence, deep listening, reflection. Overall he was a really great student! (And a little bit annoying – he was always underfoot! But if he weren’t then he wouldn’t have been able to save Drona!)
Dhanurasana (Bow pose) and Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward facing bow – sometimes incorrectly called full wheel) are meant to be the shape of an archer’s bow.
I went to to turtle pond in Central Park just to film Kūrma with Kūrma!!!
Vishnu, the sustainer of the earth, appears in various forms to save the planet when necessary. There are 10 avatars of Vishnu, whose appearances seem to coincide with evolution. Kurma, the tortoise, was the 2nd avatar.
Matsya (The Fish)
Kurma (The Tortoise)
Varaha (The Boar)
Narasimha (The Lion Man)
Vamana (The Dwarf)
Parashurama (A Warrior/Saint, bound by codes of honor)
I learned recently while doing research for #mythmonday that in the etymology for Ṭiṭṭibhāsana, Ṭiṭṭibha actually means “small insect” and has nothing to do with a firefly other than that it happens to be a small insect, and is the one the yoga world chose (I’m guessing because they are pretty.) In fact this asana could very well be called “gnat pose!”
An alternative etymology is from the story of a pair of Tittibha birds that nested by the sea; the ocean swept away their eggs, and the birds complained to Vishnu, asking for the eggs to be returned. The god gave the order, and the sea gave the eggs back.
According to the Ashtanga Yoga website: “The story is often used as a symbol of yoga. The sea with its might and power represents the power of illusion, ignorance and prejudice or the general Chitta (चित्त, Citta), i.e. all aspects of human existence subject to change. The small Tittibha (टिट्टिभ, Ṭiṭṭibha)-bird stands for the effort of the yogi, an effort which seems ineffectual when compared with the challenge. But just as the little Tittibha (टिट्टिभ, Ṭiṭṭibha)-bird succeeds in spite of seeming superiority, the yogi can calm Chitta (चित्त, Citta) through practice and shatter illusion.”
I often practice walking meditation, and there is always one as part of the retreats I lead!
Here are some simple instructions for a walking meditation. This can be done anywhere – even the crazy streets of NYC- but ideally you are surrounded by the beautiful sounds of nature: – if possible, leave your phone at home – if you are somewhere you can walk barefoot, like on sand or grass, leave your shoes at home too!
– if this is a group walking meditation, walk in one straight line, each person a few steps behind. Try as much as possible to follow the pace of the person ahead of you. – pick a mantra to match with your steps. I like to use lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu. As you walk silently repeat each word with each step – right foot lokah, left foot samastah, right foot sukhino, left foot bhavantu… – walk deliberately and slowly, heel, ball, toe; silently repeating the mantra. If you are barefoot, feel the different textures of the earth as you walk. – keep your chin parallel to the earth, gazing forward as you walk, allowing your peripheral vision to take in your surroundings. Notice what you may see, but without labeling or judging. Just take it all in. Continuing to repeat the mantra. – hear the sounds around you – waves crashing, birds chirping, insects, leaves rustling- but without labeling or judging in anyway – just notice – if you pass any other humans along the way, just nod and smile 😊 – when you come to the end of however far you are walking, stop for a few moments – 3 to 5 minutes – and just gaze outwards at your beautiful surroundings – continue to repeat these steps on the way back. Just before you finish pause again for a moment and close your eyes. After a few moments, Om 3x out loud.
I had jury duty yesterday…so I had a lot of time to think about ‘time’.
Time is an interesting concept – a set amount of time (in this case the 8 hours I spent at the courthouse) seems to either speed up or slow down depending on our situation/frame of mind. For example – if you are at a movie with a friend and you are not into the movie, you might keep checking your watch to see when it will end, and when you look at your watch, you’re like, “how can it have only been 15 minutes! How am I going to last another hour and a half??!!” You can’t leave because your friend is totally into it… On the other hand, if you LOVE the movie, it may seem like it ended in a flash, and you want to see more! (Hopefully I’m writing this in a way that makes you want to keep reading 😉
One more quick example, because…yoga. 1 minute is a pretty short amount of time. Especially when you only have one minute to catch a train…but when you are holding a one minute handstand in the Magic 10, it feels like FOR-EV-ER.
I was a bit nervous about having jury duty because I REALLY couldn’t be picked to sit on a jury. I wholeheartedly agree with the process, I find it interesting and I actually think I would really enjoy it, but as a yoga teacher, I only get paid for the classes or private sessions I teach, and could not sub out my classes for a week or more. My mantra throughout most of this process was “Don’t pick me, don’t pick me, don’t pick me.” Funny – the last time I was called for jury duty I REALLY wanted to be picked, but the attorneys didn’t want anything to do with me for that case…
This is how jury duty works in Brooklyn: you are required to arrive at the courthouse at 8:30 a.m., stand on a line outdoors (yesterday the temperature in Brooklyn at that time was already 84ºF) for a good 15 minutes while you wait to get through security. You sit in a very large, barely air conditioned room, with hundreds of other people, and go through an orientation process that lasts until about 10 a.m. This process consists of ridiculous instructions on how to fill in bubbles on a form, and a very outdated video that talks about MySpace (!). And then you wait, and wait and wait. At least 10 groups of 16 people were called before I heard my name. This was great! Maybe I’d get through the whole day without being called! It seemed like a loooooong time had passed. I looked at the time on my phone and it was only…10:30 a.m. Seriously??? 10:30? This was going to be a ridiculously long day. Rather than doing anything constructive like reading the book I brought, or doing work, I was playing a mind numbing game that was sucking up my battery life. At about 5 minutes to 11 I decide to plug my phone in, and then of course my name is called…
Once you are called into a panel room – which is SUPER tiny and has one rotating fan that really only hits the front row – the lawyers randomly split the group up. There were 16 of us in the room – they chose 10 people to question, and the other 6 had to just hang out and listen. I was of course NOT part of the first 10 to be questioned, so more waiting and more stress about not knowing if I’d get picked…
(P.S. – I have brought up the temperature multiple times now – studies have been done (check out PubMed) that show that increased body temperature can slow down our perception of time by up to 20%! If NYC were smart they would turn up the AC to cover up the slowness of bureaucracy…)
By the time the lawyers gave us background on this particular case, it was already close to break time, so they didn’t start questioning until after lunch. We were told that if we had anything personal to discuss with them, we could do so privately, so as we were about to go to lunch, I told them it would be a financial burden if I were picked. Believe it or not, one of the lawyer’s wives happens to be a yoga teacher, he totally got it, and they pretty much guaranteed that they would not pick me, but I had to still sit through the day’s process. Totally cool with me!
A weight was lifted off my shoulders. I KNEW I didn’t have to come back. I was able to sit back and relax, and enjoy (yes, enjoy) the afternoon’s proceedings. I find it completely interesting. I was enjoying hearing about the two sides of the case (the limited details they can tell you without a judge in the room) and how people answered the questions; what people’s biases are, or if they are just trying to get out of jury duty (you can tell.) The afternoon sped by. By the time the last 6 of us were questioned it was the end of the day, and they didn’t even bother with me. I just had to hang out. This is where time slowed down again…at this point I just wanted to get out of there! Finally at 4:30 p.m. we were set free, with a lovely piece of paper in hand, good for 8 years, that said JURY DUTY SERVED.
In verse 1.2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, he gives us the definition of yoga: yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ – Yoga is when we stop identifying with the fluctuations of the mind. Then in verse 1.12 he gives us two ways to stop that identification: abhyāsa vairāgyābhyām tannirōdhaḥ – Through practice (abhyāsa) and non-attachment to the results of practice (vairāgyā). This is how we find yoga.
I became more engaged in jury duty when I wasn’t so attached to the outcome. I was enjoying the process, and in a way I wish I could have sat on the jury.
This also happens with our yoga practice – if we can let go of the outcome, of what we think the “goal” of yoga is – in that particular moment or if we think there’s some sort of “end-game” – then we can be in the present moment and experience the practice for what it is – a practice – and maybe even enjoy it!
Our practice will be different today from what it was yesterday or what it will be tomorrow. It changes – like our perception of time – based on how we feel that day, stuff that happened that day, injuries. It changes with time, changes with life experiences. But the practice is always there, and offers to us what we need in that particular moment, or allows us to at least recognize it. We notice where we are stuck, or what thoughts keep coming up and when, and then we work through it. And through this practice, and with time, we also change. We become more engaged in our everyday lives – not just on the mat – where hopefully rather than stressing about past or future events or projecting what we think will happen, we can move around this earth in the present moment in a way that is to the benefit of everyone. What’s the point of a “goal” of yoga if you are not living, breathing, enjoying it? (Check out the Myth Video on Bharadvaja)
I’ll leave you with some thought’s from Jivamukti’s co-founder Sharon Gannon. In this month’s focus at Jivamukti , Sharon discusses the concepts of time and alchemy. She describes alchemy as “the ancient practice of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.”
Yoga is also an ancient practice of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary: “Abhyāsa–regular continuous practice, done with detachment, meaning no matter what, will help the settling of your mind and lead to peace of mind. The implication is “with” time a number of obstacles to freedom will fall away. The practices of yoga— as well as alchemy— are magical practices that alter one’s perception of the world, one’s self and of time. Such an altered perception can help you to live in harmony with nature, rather than viewing yourself as separate from nature.”
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.