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
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.
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.
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.