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!)
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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!
Hey guys! This is a special #mythmonday video shot from my retreat location in La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia, the largest coastal mountain range in the world! I’ll be telling the story of Pārvatī, but while I was here in Colombia I did some research on local indigenous mythology and found a description of a myhtological figure named La Madre Monte, Mother Mountain:
Madre monte (Mother Mountain) is a stout, elegant woman who wears moss and leaves and a green hat that conceals her face. She lives in dense jungle and supposedly bathes in rivers, causing flooding and heavy storms. Madre monte haunts those who steal others people’s land and casts plagues on cattle owners who usurp fields or ignore boundaries. She also dislikes unfaithful spouses, vagabonds and general mischief-makers and punishes them by placing insurmountable obstacles in their path when they walk through the jungle. They eventually fall asleep with exhaustion and do not wake for hours.
I found many of her attributes similar to those of yogic mythology, like Pārvatī, or her son Gaṇeśa. Check out the #mythmonday video below.
Pārvatī was born into royalty; her father Himavat was king of the Himalaya, who was also sometimes referred to as King Parvat. Pārvatī was named after her father, and her name translates to ‘Daughter of the Mountains’. She is the goddess of fertility (everything comes from the mountain, or Earth), love, devotion, but also of strength and power – just like a mountain! The alignment of tāḍāsana (mountain seat) exists within every single other āsana we come into during class. All the āsanas have the same physical alignment, they are just shaped different. Similarly, everything on this planet, living and inanimate, are made of the same elements, 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 humans – 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 practices of yoga – physical, spiritual and philosophical – teach us how to relate and connect to everyone and everything around us in a meaningful and supportive way.
This story is very much about ego. Kahola could not stand being corrected by his unborn son, and cursed him, causing a birth deformity. Aṣṭāvakra couldn’t stand the mistakes being made by Kahola and could not help but correct him from the womb. The supposed vedic scholars could not believe that someone who looked like Aṣṭāvakra could also be a vedic scholar and were embarrassed when he proved them wrong.
Similarly arm balances are also all about ego. Yes, they require strength and flexibility – both attributes we need in our everyday lives. But when we can all of a sudden come into an arm balance, it all of a sudden becomes our new social media profile pic or new party trick (don’t drink and yoga you guys!) And when we can’t do them, we are looking around the room comparing ourselves to those who can and wondering why we can’t. It’s all about ego, and none of that matters. You won’t all of a sudden become enlightened when you come into Aṣṭāvakrāsana the first time (wouldn’t that be nice!) There is a deeper meaning behind why we practice āsanas, and it’s not about circus tricks. Although this does not mean that you shouldn’t at least try and work your way up to the full asana. If you never try, nothing will ever change. We can say that nothing we do will make changes in the world, but if we don’t at least try, then DEFINITELY nothing will ever change. Be the change you want to see in the world.
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
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
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.
I have the great privilege and humbling honor to lead this year’s annual Jivamukti Yoga Memorial Day Retreat at Ananda Ashram, located in Monroe, NY, May 24th – 27th 2019.
We will spend the weekend exploring asana and meditation, while diving deeper into spiritual teachings that can support our health, happiness, and sanity. Best of all, we will be doing it together in a beautiful place. This retreat is not only a gift to yourself, but to everyone you know, and to all beings.
Each day we will rise together for meditation and asana class, then meet again in the afternoons for further exploration through asana, study and song. We will enjoy delicious vegan meals prepared for us with love. There will also be opportunities to study Sanskrit with the amazingly gifted teacher Bharati, and to participate in the ashram’s acclaimed evening programs.
It is often impossible to move forward in a new way without first taking a step back. The retreat is an opportunity to get in touch with our Jivamukti lineage, part of which came through Ananda Ashram founder Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati. By unplugging from daily life, you have the opportunity to steep in your practice, and to suspend unhelpful cyclic thinking.
Semi-private accommodations $595, pre-register before May 1st $625 after May 1st
Dorm Room accommodations $535, pre-register before May 1st $565 after May 1st
Ananda Ashram in Monroe, New York, is a Yoga retreat and spiritual-educational center just over one hour from New York City, founded in 1964 by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati (then Ramamurti S. Mishra, M.D.) as the country center of the Yoga Society of New York, Inc.
Located in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains, the Ashram provides a serene, natural environment with woods and meadows surrounding a lake. Accommodations are simple and meals are vegetarian.
SAT May 25 8am – 9am Light Breakfast (coffee, tea, toast) 9am Morning Meditation and Fire Ceremony 9:45-10:45 Scripture Studies with Bharati 11:00-12:30 Jivamukti Yoga Asana Class w/ April 12:30-1:30pm Lunch 1:30-3pm Break
2:30-3:00 pm optional walking meditation in woods w/April 3pm – 5pm Jivamukti Yoga w/ April 5:30-630 Dinner 7:30pm-8:30 pm Ashram Meditation Program 8:30 pm North Indian Vocal Concert with Deepak Kumar & Naren Budhakar
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.