Monthly Archives: October 2009

rock on, hanuman

In today’s Know Your Inspiring Indian Gods column: the fantastic story of Hanuman, the monkey god.

According to the Indian epic, the Ramayama, a great battle ensued between Rama, a powerful king, and the demon king Ravana, when Ravana kidnapped Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita, and took her to Sri Lanka. During this horrific battle, Rama’s brother, Laksmana, was badly wounded, and the only way he would survive is to be treated with a very specific, very rare herb that grew only in the Himalayas. Rama was distraught: who could possibly travel from Southern India to the Himalayas and back again in time to save his brother?

This impossible task fell on Hanuman, the powerful and intelligent monkey god. Hanuman was deeply devoted to Rama, and would do anything for him. He took one mighty leap from the south of India all the way to the Himalayas, and unsure of which herb he was supposed to pick, he carried the entire mountain range over his head as he leapt back to the battlefield. The necessary herb was found, and Laksmana was restored.

Later, Hanuman takes another impressive leap from India to Sri Lanka, where he reunites Rama with Sita, and carries them away to a lifetime of happiness and good health.

It is this story that inspires Hanumanasana (Monkey God Pose). Hanuman’s power comes from bhakti, his devotion to Rama. Likewise, our power in Hanumanasana comes from our ability to take a giant, expansive leap of faith, and believing that you can overcome challenges when your unfailing devotion meets humility and respect for the pose itself – bhakti (devotion) meets shakti (empowerment).

Hanumanasana is often looked at as an impossible feat, especially if you fall into the Extremely Tight Hamstrings Camp. But with a little devotion, courage, and of course, practice, you can achieve the impossible. We can always remind ourselves of the wise words of Jambavantha (the King of Bears) to Hanuman when he doubts his ability to rescue Sita:

You are as powerful as the wind;

You are intelligent, illustrious and an inventor.

There is nothing in this world that’s too difficult for you;

Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.

japanese folk zen


everything
changes in this world
but flowers will open
each spring
just as usual.

october/november spotlight on: foundation

Computer issues have prevented me from updating this site in a long, long while. In fact, I’ve had to rebuild the whole site from scratch. In hindsight, the experience has been an excellent lesson in detachment (but I’ll save detachment for another month).

A few weeks ago, in an independent bookstore that sells an unusually large number of books about mountaineering, I thumbed through one such volume and came across this sentence at the beginning of a chapter: “It starts with a mountain.” The yogic wheels started turning: Of course. It starts with a mountain.

Allegorically, having a strong foundation means grounding yourself firmly in something tried and true, something strong and timeless. (“Build your house on the rock…and the rains descended, the winds blew and beat on that house…and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Matt. 7.24). Different religious paths liken strong foundations to unwavering faithfulness, and a deep, meaningful knowledge of your convictions. A belief founded in truth has the strength of a mountain.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana) is the foundational pose of all other poses in asana practice, what we know as the physical practice of yoga. There are elements of Tadasana in every single yoga pose. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes less so. Like grounding yourself firmly in your beliefs, in Tadasana you ground your feet firmly into the mat. Like standing strong and still when the storms of life descend upon you, you activate your muscles (quadriceps, abdominals, back, and arms) to weather the challenges ahead and protect your body from harm.

We sometimes get caught up in the more physically demanding yoga poses and forget all about our foundation, Tadasana. By committing to a strong foundation, you commit to a yoga practice that will last, long after you’ve rolled your mat away. It starts with a strong foundation. It starts with a mountain.

Guruji demonstrating Tadasana (or as Ashtangis call it, Samastithi)