Posts Tagged With: yoga myths

#MythMonday : Bharadvaja

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.

Upon his 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?

At the 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?

In his 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.

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#MythMonday : Galava

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 defying gravity.

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!)

BKS Iyengar
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#MythMonday : Patanjali

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.

When the 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.

At the 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!

Anantasana (Vishnu’s Couch)


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#MythMonday : Hanuman

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 nickname Hanumān, 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.

Most of 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!

Video edited by https://www.facebook.com/jivamuktiyoganyc/

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#MythMonday : Parvati

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.

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#MythMonday: Aṣṭāvakra

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.

Videos created by Jivamukti NYC

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#mythmonday : Matsyendra

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 Nath group). 

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 Warriors. 

Matsyendra shared 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.

Videos Created by Jivamukti NYC

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#mythmonday: Matsya

Introducing: #mythmondays!

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.

Matyāsana

Videos Created by Jivamukti NYC

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