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 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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.