Embodying the stories of the asanas
Every culture everywhere has stories of how we came to be, stories of the universe, and stories of the souls journey towards fulfilment. Tarot cards and yoga have this similarity, teaching us through stories, and learning from these lessons-we find universal truths, and in so doing I think we feel less alone when we realize everyone is basically walking the same road.
Our asana practice moves us through many of these stories, and many things we find in nature. When we harness that energy and that growth in our practice we embody the asana. We can find this beginning in Tadasana/mountain pose as we tune into stillness, strength, rooting down and reaching up-we embody the energy of the mountain that is un-moving, strong and solid, and are able to start our practice with that energy.
Tree pose – Vrksasana – can give us the same energy of growth, and rooting down, while also being flexible, and sprouting as we extend our arms upwards, or we lean to the side, finding what works for us to stay grounded while we reach, something we can take into our life off the mat. The energy of feeling connected, rooted and calm, yet being able to reach for our goals. We can also take this idea of tree to discuss cooperation and being able to grow in a community, which really transfers to all yoga. In a large forest the trees all grow, they reach and take up space, but do not crowd or take nutrients from each other. There is even science that shows that they support each other sending nutrients to less healthy trees. Think of a large class you have been in, the teacher can modify how we engage in the pose depending on how much space you have-your “branches” can grow, or you can reach straight up with your prayer.
Child’s pose – Balasana – reminds us to rest when we need, reminds us to surrender and to find a playful nature that children can easily connect to, I had a teacher once that said to see your yoga mat as your playground, and when we tune into the energy of a child and their learning we can see this in our yoga practice. Think of a young child learning to walk, they fall and keep getting up, our practice can be like this too! We practice poses many many times, each time coming to them with an open mind, the day’s body which may be tired or strong, and we try, and if we fall we try again!
Hanumansana, a more advanced pose in its fullest expression, is from one of my favorite stories. The things that stand out for me in the different versions of these stories are that Hanuman was born of divine and mortal parents, and was very powerful! When he was a child he saw the sun and thought it a delicious fruit-so he jumped up to take a bite! As you can imagine the sun was not happy about this, and after some discussion, it was decided by the gods to have him forget his divine powers, so as not to have this kind of thing happen again. He went on as he grew older to protect Ram (an incarnation of Vishnu) and Sita (Laksmi). On a mission to find and comfort the beloved wife of Ram Hanuman made a huge leap to get to the island, Sita was being held captive on. He also made a giant leap to bring back a mountain with medicinal herbs on it! In his first big leap he regained his knowledge of his divinity-until this leap he did not remember his powers, he grew larger, he jumped. As we embody this pose we are asked to remember our divinity, our devotion. We are asked to find our inner power that we may not even realize we have. We are stretched to our limits, maybe, but in a good way, for as we strive we may find strength and space we didn’t know we have. (You can read more about him and his adventures and devotion in the Ramayana.)
Dancers pose -Natarajasana – is a pose that reminds us of the cycles and rhythms of life. Nataraja/shiva is the god of destruction, he brings change, and his story reminds us to check in with how we are flowing with this dance, I once heard it said that all of life is a dance with Shiva, and we should look to see if we are flowing and in rhythm with it. Shiva is present at the end of all the ages, and with endings we find beginnings. We often see him in a circle of flames, dancing on the image of ignorance. We can use this cue to check into what patterns we have in our live and which of these patterns can be let go of to make our life smoother.
Savasana – corpse pose – is the pose we almost always end our classes with. This pose is where we assimilate and take in all the lessons from class. It is a stillness that prepares us for the ultimate transition. It is a way for us to face and be unafraid of this inevitability. But it also reminds us of our rebirth into out our next incarnation when we roll to our side in that comforting fetal position. Life is cyclical, karma is cyclical. What we learn and take with us on and off the mat, the good we do is of utmost importance. These stories that the asanas are taken from can be our guideposts, our instruction manual to have a smooth life, with the playfulness of our inner child, the love and duty of Hanuman and the grace of Shiva. There are so many poses we can find these allegories for, I invite you to study the wonderful tales that are associated with our path, they will teach you so very much and they are very beautiful!
Amy’s goal is to empower people to live their best lives and to access their hearts and passions through their yoga practice, and the truths that can be found in stories. Yoga has been her passion for 30 years, and she has been teaching for half that time, finding great joy in sharing her love of this practice, and the peaceful look on her student’s face after Savasana.
You can find out more about Amy Novack on her website. You can also follow her on Instagram.