• Bhujanga Asana: The Story Behind the Pose

    “One has to have a good intent for every action and practice equanimity after it,” Shiva said. “Be self-aware and alert like a snake to its surroundings, be aware of what your mind feeds you and you will know how to adapt and evade thoughts that disturb you and bring fear.”

    Bhujanga in Sanskrit means ‘snake’. The posture entails keeping the legs in contact with the mat while the torso is pushed up to open the chest. The strength of the bend in the spine can be calibrated with a simultaneous bend in the arms. This posture when performed for an extended period of time is accompanied by a murmured chant ‘OM HIRANYA GARBHAYA NAMAHA’, which means greeting and acknowledging your golden cosmic self.

    Bhujanga asana represents a cobra when it is the most alert and aware of its surroundings. This cobra posture represents our ability as humans to face our fears and not shy away from what we dread. The open chest in the posture helps in expanding the lungs for gentle but deep inhalations and exhalations. The hood of the snake is also a representation of the wisdom that is achieved in stillness and helps in conquering our fears.

    Lord Shiva’s first pupil was Shakti (Parvati). She insisted on learning yoga from Adiyogi (the first yogi). Lord Shiva, with ‘Karkotaka’ (the serpent) coiled around his neck, spoke to Shakti as a teacher and told her that in the journey of being a yogi it is important to move ahead with faith in the cosmos and the cosmic self. It is also important for a yogi to have a firm resolve and patience. He told her that modesty and purity of thought were the ornaments of any human and more so of a yogi.

    Shakti listened to Lord Shiva attentively, but Shiva knew she had a question. He opened his eyes and asked her to say what she had in her mind.

    She did not hold back and asked “How does one get rid of fear?”

    “You do not have to get rid of fear, you have to be aware of it,” Adiyogi replied.

    “One has to have a good intent for every action and practice equanimity after it,” Shiva said. “Be self-aware and alert like a snake to its surroundings, be aware of what your mind feeds you and you will know how to adapt and evade thoughts that disturb you and bring fear.”

    Lord Shiva told her that a supple spine and equanimity in thoughts would always help in facing fears.

    It is after this discourse Adiyogi taught Shakti Bhujanga asana, an asana for keeping the spine healthy.

    Bhujanga asana is always a part of Hatha Yoga practice. It is known for strengthening the spine and its supporting muscles while improving blood circulation. The asana is also revered for the psychosomatic benefits it brings to the practitioner.

    OM HIRANYA GARBHAYA NAMAHA

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India.

    Start your 14-day Free Trial with Omstars Today!

     

  • Vashisthasana (Side Plank Pose): The Fine Balance of Life

    The one-arm balance of side plank pose is symbolic of Sage Vashistha’s teachings which encourage spiritual growth while fulfilling our day-to-day duties and responsibilities. The one-arm balance is the balance one needs to strive for while being part of the world and also being aware of self and the cosmos.

    Vashisthasana, also known as side plank pose, is a demanding posture that requires balance while strengthening all major muscle groups. To do the posture, balance on one arm with the rest of the body straight and the feet flexed sideways.

    This asana draws inspiration from the teachings of Sage Vashistha, who was a teacher to Lord Rama. Lord Rama, an avatar of Vishnu, was born to show humanity the path to righteousness. Born as a human, Lord Rama experienced the challenges of life like all other beings and traveled to far-off places as a young prince.

    A stage came to him when he was overwhelmed with the conflicts and dilemmas of life. He was disillusioned as a prince and deeply saddened by what he saw and experienced. His father, King Dashratha, understood his son’s state of mind and requested Sage Vashistha to become Lord Rama’s teacher and guide him back on his life path.

    The world had lost its luster for Lord Rama, the young prince, and he shared his disillusionment with the sage. Sage Vashistha reassured Rama that his state of sorrow and disillusionment would lead him to the path of spirituality if he would be kind to himself.

    In his discourse, Sage Vashistha introduced Lord Rama to the state of “Jeevanmukta,” a liberated soul living amidst life’s duties. Sage Vashistha elucidates on the state of “Jeevanmukta,” stating that a “Jeevanmukta” is an individual who lives in the world fulfilling their duties towards work and family. They use their talents to the best of their ability to cater to the world around them. They’re aware of the divinity that lies within. Therefore a “Jeevanmukta” is able to strike a balance by being in this world but not being of this world, and this is liberating for the individual.

    Sage Vashistha tells Lord Rama the parable of the crow and the coconut. The moment the crow lands on the coconut tree, a coconut drops off the tree. No one can know if the coconut fell off the tree because the crow alights on the tree or it was the right time for the ripe coconut to fall.

    Sage Vashistha thus says that we should only perform our actions and apply our thoughts in the most balanced way, knowing very well that the outcome is not for us to decide. As long as one is in touch with one’s inner self, which is beyond our actions and our thoughts, one will always be able to strike a balance in all aspects of life without being bothered about the outcomes.

    During several discourses between Lord Rama and Sage Vashistha, the great sage reiterates the truth that true balance of life means fulfilling our duties as a part of the social fabric in the most balanced way. A balanced way to do things is to not be anxious about the outcome. We need to perform all our actions with the intent that it will bring a positive change in someone’s life and lead our lives with such hope while remaining detached from the outcomes of our actions.

    The one-arm balance of side plank pose is symbolic of Sage Vashistha’s teachings which encourage spiritual growth while fulfilling our day-to-day duties and responsibilities. The one-arm balance is the balance one needs to strive for while being part of the world and also being aware of self and the cosmos.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India.

    Start your 14-day Free Trial with Omstars Today!

     

  • Yoga Mythology Series: Bharata’s Yama – A Discerning Self

    It is our thoughts and thoughts alone that shape our actions and deeds. If we are free from greed, content with what we have, and if we keep our minds calm, wealth and wellbeing will come to us. The richest person in the world is the one who has a serene mind free of tension and anxiety.

    The King of Ayodhya, Dashratha, had four sons. Ram was the eldest. Bharata was the second. Lakshmana and Shatrughana were the younger ones. Prince Ram was sent away with Sage Vishwamitra to study and learn under his tutelage. After years of study and devotion to the sage, Ram was asked to go back to his Kingdom as a married man and take responsibility for the Kingdom from his aging father.

    At the day of Ram’s coronation ceremony, the second wife of King Dashratha, Kaikeyi, demanded her favorite son Bharata be crowned as the King, and Ram be sent to exile for fourteen years in the forest. King Dashratha was heartbroken, but he kept his promise, granting the two wishes to Queen Kaikeyi because she’d saved his life years ago.

    When Bharata learned about his mother’s wish, he was deeply saddened. He did not want to become the King of Ayodhya because he knew it rightfully belonged to his elder brother Ram. To his mother’s disappointment, he refused to become the King of Ayodhya through such trickery.

    Both Ram and Bharat were bound by their father’s promise to Queen Kaikeyi and the responsibility of running the Kingdom of Ayodhya. Ram, without an iota of regret, removed all his royal robes and left the city of Ayodhya as a hermit for fourteen years. Bharata had a duty to perform in the absence of Ram, that of administering the Kingdom. But instead of becoming the King himself, he chose to become his brother Ram’s regent. He left the palace to live as a hermit like Ram in a village called Nandigram. As a mark of respect and love for his elder brother, Bharata placed Ram’s footwear on the throne to proclaim Ram’s undisputed kingship.

    Bharata’s administered the Kingdom of Ayodhya with righteousness, and it prospered under his leadership. But he always worked as a representative of Ram, his elder brother and the rightful heir to the throne. For fourteen years of his life, while Ram was away in exile, Bharata lived with meager means as a hermit, knowing that he had no right to enjoy the luxuries of a royal life when they were meant for Ram only. At the same time, he did not shy away from performing his duties as the administrator of Ayodhya and looked after Kingdom as promised to his elder brother and father.

    After fourteen years of exile upon Ram’s return to Ayodhya, Bharata received his elder brother and the King of Ayodhya at the city gates with flowers and handed over the Kingdom to Ram. Ram too, after his coronation, made Bharata the Yuvraj (crown prince) for his great virtues and years of experience as Ayodhya’s administrator.

    Our instincts are purely of peaceful and joyful living, but intellect drives us to obtain more and more. How would it be if our day-to-day life was simplified just a little bit? What if we choose not to steal other’s possessions in thought or action; tried not to be envious; nor cheat someone with sweet words, gaining selfish ends under the pretext of truthfulness? How would it be if whatever we acquired was only through righteousness? What if we always gave two out for two in? When we buy two shirts, we give away two from our wardrobe.

    If we did these things we’d be living our life by Asteya and Aparigraha, the yogic principles of life that prince Bharata chose.

    It is our thoughts and thoughts alone that shape our actions and deeds. If we are free from greed, content with what we have, and if we keep our minds calm, wealth and wellbeing will come to us. The richest person in the world is the one who has a serene mind free of tension and anxiety.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India.

    Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash
     

  • The Myth of the Pain-Free Practice

    With your first heartbeat, you sign up for a ride called life. Life is a Self or God choreographed sequence sprinkled with crazy experiences, joyous events and untimely disasters you couldn’t even imagine ever happening to you. What an amazing ride.

    Not knowing everything that is going to happen in the game of life is par for the course.

    Doing everything “right” will not shield you. Following all the rules does not guarantee results because, when you signed up, you were not given the rule book in the first place. You can only do your best and follow what you think are the rules. Life comes with no guarantees. And even if it did, it is locked away in the same forgotten place you put the rule book.

    When you get on your mat, you are still within the parameters of the game of life.

    Your Yoga mat is not inside a bubble that shields you from unexpected pain. You still don’t have the rule book or even a user’s manual for your body. Scientists and doctors do not completely understand the human body. If they did, you could go to the body story right now and get a new one. You could order the perfect body on Amazon Prime and get one day delivery. You wouldn’t even need Yoga poses because you could order a body that is already primed for meditation. Want to do a handstand or put your foot behind your head? Order a body that can already can do it. Done.

    No one can promise you a pain free life or a pain free Yoga practice.

    I don’t care how many letters are behind their name, how many followers they have on Instagram, what their lineage is or if they know every muscle, bone, organ, ligament and vein in the body by heart. Your body is a complex glorious creation that no one fully understands. Throughout your life, this body is shaped and formed by unique experiences, many of which you don’t even remember. Even the traumas you do remember can shape your body in a way that is completely undetectable by you, your doctor, your pastor or your teacher. A movement, a food, a scenario that has never been a problem, all of a sudden is.

    No Yoga alignment, anatomy or technique training comes with a mind/body/soul reader that allows you and your teacher to see every single trauma, ailment, bacteria, fungus, and diseased cell in your body. No one can see the ticking time bomb that is your existence. Even if this mythical machine existed, you would need to be scanned with it every minute of the day because you are constantly having new experiences and being exposed to new inputs that could possibly become a problem.

    Learning as much as you can about your body prevents most injuries and ailments but not all of them.

    Studying with teachers who know a lot about the body, will prevent many Yoga injuries, but not all of them. If you get stuck on the idea that there is a such thing as a pain free Yoga practice or existence, your Yoga practice will also become stuck. Why? Because there will inevitably be some pain. When that pain comes, you will have the choice of continuing your practice and learning from this new information your body and your life has given you or quitting. You will have the option to grow or stagnate.

    This article is not about pushing through pain.

    This article is not against learning as much as you can about your body and finding a good Yoga teacher who also knows a lot about the body. Do not push through pain. Please find a good Yoga teacher. Use the best technique that you can. Rest when needed. Do all of those things. This article is about the unattainable need for perfection that has also permeated the world of Yoga. If you sit and think, you can come up with many examples in life where you and people you know have done everything right and everything still ended up incredibly wrong.

    But yet, for some reason, you expect that everything that happens on your Yoga mat should and can be perfect. You expect your teachers to be perfect. Your lineage to be perfect. Your community to be perfect. All while knowing that you have never met a perfect human being in your life. Knowing that you have never met a human being that has never had pain, a baby who never cried, a man that has never been sick or woman who could predict everyone’s future with 100% accuracy. However, when you get on your mat, this magical scenario supposedly can be achieved.

    Fear is a great marketing tool.

    The world of Yoga is now bursting with people who can promise you a pain free practice, with no unpleasant feelings…for a fee. There are many charlatans building their platform on the promise that they will never hurt you. Anyone who has been in any long term loving relationship can attest to the fact that all the love in the world is not a guarantee against hard feelings and misunderstandings. Anyone who has worked with the human body for a long period of time, you fall into that category, can tell you that things don’t always go to plan. But for some reason, you feel that this smiling Yoga teacher, who also came into this world without a body rule book, can give you this guarantee.

    Another component of the promise of a pain free practice is the canceling of teachers who speak openly about their injuries. I have seen people on social media use a teacher’s injury as proof of that teacher’s ineptitude, lack of knowledge about the body or to prove that their teachings are harmful. This could be the case for sure. It could also mean that they were yet another person without the life handbook. An old soccer injury reared its head at the very moment they perfectly stacked their joints for a handstand. Or maybe, they fell down the stairs running after a baby wearing slippery house shoes (true story).

    In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:16 it says, “Pain, that has not yet come, should be avoided.”

    This is amazing advice. You should not be seeking painful experiences in your Yoga practice. You should do everything possible to not have pain on your mat. However, without the mind body soul x ray machine, the user’s guide and the ability to know every single thing going on in your body and your student’s body at any given time, total avoidance of pain is not possible.

    By Shanna Small

    Read More Articles by Shanna Small

    Shanna Small is the author of, The Ashtanga Yoga Project, a website that teaches how to live the wisdom of Yoga in modern times. Shanna began her Yoga journey in 2000 and her teaching journey in 2005. She has studied the Yoga Sutras, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chanting and Ashtanga at KPJAYI in India with Sharath Jois and Lakshmish. She received her Yoga Alliance registration for Vinyasa Yoga in 2005 and served 4 years as the director of Ashtanga Yoga School Charlotte. She has written for Yoga International, OmStars and Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine. Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography