First…I know it’s Tuesday! I was traveling from Chicago (where this video was filmed! Cloud Gate aka “The Bean”) and couldn’t get to posting until today. Forgive me!
Ākarṇa Dhanurāsana translates as “to the ear bow seat,” and looks like an archer stringing a bow and arrow. The perfect asana to tie to the story of Ram & Shiva’s Bow!
When Vishvamitra first introduced Ram to Sita, they locked eyes over a sacrificial fire and there was an immediate spark! Not just from the crackling fire! But there was still some courting to do…
Over the course of time, Vishvamitra became more and more excited about his match-making skills, and how perfect Sita and Ram were for each other.
Sita was proving to be extremely knowledgeable about the Vedas, as well as a really good cook, which doesn’t hurt 😉 She also has super strength and was able to pick up the bow of shiva – which was so heavy that 12 men together couldn’t pick it up!
Ram was also extremely knowledgeable about the vedas and was proving to be king worthy. He was smart, extremely proficient with a bow and arrow, and understood social constructs.
But Sita, as the daughter of King Janaka, was only allowed to marry the man who could string Shiva’s bow. When it was Ram’s turn she was extremely anxious as he already had her heart.
As Ram began to string the bow, he caught Sita’s eye and lost his concentration. All of a sudden the bow broke in two with a loud thunderous crack! Everyone heard it – the devas in the sky and the nagas under the earth! There was complete stillness in the room as everyone watching was waiting to hear from Janaka. This was completely unexpected, as no one else, aside from Sita, could even pick it up! But Ram broke it! What was to happen??!!
Finally, Janaka announced that from then on Ram would be the beloved of Sita, and thus began the start of their relationship.
Shiva in the form of Nataraja is the Lord of Dance. His Tandava dance is said to represent the universe being created, maintained, and dissolved, and for those watching it a veil of ignorance and arrogance is lifted. So find your Atman and get your dance on!
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.”
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!