Dear Spiritual Explorer: I have often wondered how asanas originated. Can you tell us anything about this? Laura M., Detroit, MI
Myths of the Asanas
Dear Laura: In Hindu theology, many myths abound of the gods, goddesses and various practices of yoga, especially myths of asanas. One of the most beautiful books regarding myths in terms of elegance of thought, inspiration and illustration is Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij, with a foreword by Shiva Rea. Those in the yogic world will know Shiva Rea through her many CD’S and renowned teachings of yoga. Myths of the Asanas attempts to give the story and tradition behind many key asanas in the yogic tradition.
Why it is important to know the myths of asanas
Why is it so important to know the myths of asanas? One of the basic reasons is that yoga is mythic. It is a reflection of the cosmic forces that are timeless and universal in nature: creation, continuity and destruction. Those of us even slightly familiar with the Hindu tradition know about Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, the trinity within the tradition that stand for creation, preservation and destruction. Few westerners know the stories behind the names of the asanas. When you learn about myths of asanas, you enter a space of mythic consciousness, a place where you no longer need to know the outer asana, but the inner asana to which the myth of asanas refers.
The gifts and myths of asanas
Asana practice challenges the body and focuses the mind, while its philosophical principles encourage spiritual growth. Asanas can be viewed as a kind of prayer which distinguishes them from other forms of movement and exercise. Myths of the Asanas are intended to serve as inspirational guides that can enhance yoga practice, fueling it with a deeper meditative quality through the study of myths.
Myths of asanas really ask us to transform our consciousness, to look beneath mere physical posturing or enhancement of breath. We are asked to align our spirits with the mythological true energy and force behind each asana as we practice it. Myths of asanas can point to a higher state of consciousness. Finally, myths of asanas depict the journey of the soul from ignorance to illumination.
The myth of Natarajasana
Nataraja is the dancing form of Shiva, and at the end of each age, Shiva stands ready to turn all of creation into dust. Shiva dances to his own music within a circle of flame known as samsara. Samsara is a cyclical pattern in which we are stuck; constant repetition of life, birth and death. However, Shiva sees this as just one more rhythm to dance to. In order to dance like Shiva, you must be free. He is not afraid of destruction like we are. Reflecting our study of myths of asanas, we can see how Natarajasana allows a yogi to experience some physical elements that can bring about fear in a body. Backbending and balancing both elicit fear because of the openess and bravery they require. If we can backbone and balance with the same sense of fearlessness with which Nataraja dances, it becomes easier to embrace our own fear in our lives.Therefore, we see how the myth of the asana Natarajasana brings great clarity and purpose to performing an asana.
This is but a small example of the many asanas and other yogic practices reflecting how the myths of asanas enhance and expand the awareness and consciousness behind and beneath each asana. A beautifully written and illustrated book!
If you have a question about “myths of asana,” or anything else, you can write me at Ask The Spiritual Explorer.
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