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!
Posts Tagged With: yoga mythology
Today is Ganesh Chaturthi – Ganesha’s birthday! And he has a huuuuuuuge sweet tooth! He also has a bit of a temper – just like his dad, Shiva. So much so that he broke off his own tusk!
Ganesh is also the reason the moon (chandra) has phases, and one of the asanas associated with him is Ardha Chandrasana (Half moon).
Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana & Ardha Chandrasana
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)
- Rama (The Perfect Man)
- Kalki (The Horseman – has not yet appeared)
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 NOW!”
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 consort.
There is 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.
Virabhadrasana 1 Virabhadrasana 2 Virabhadrasana 3
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 traps.
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.