On Practice & Teaching
These writings are fairly informal reflections on practicing and teaching yoga. Click on any title to read the entire piece. Please feel free to share these with others.
Like Ganesha, Hanuman commands respect and veneration across Indian culture for his strength, humility, selflessness, devotion, determination, fearlessness, and commitment to spiritual discipline. The son of Vayu, the god of wind, and Anjana, a celestial being with the tail of a monkey (a vanara), Hanuman was the friend, confidant, and servant of King Rama. (Hanuman is also called Anjaneya, meaning “arising from Anjana,” for whom the Anjaneyasana, Low-Lunge Pose, is named.)
The tale of Vasistha and Vishvamitra in the Ramayana tells of the dynamic tension in spiritual life between the ease that arises from contentment and the spiritual depth that can result from struggle and effort. Vasisthawas an enlightened spiritual sage who established a peaceful, self-governing, cooperative society where all were happy. He had a “cow of plenty” named Nandini with the power to grant him whatever he wanted.
Ganesha is the most popular member of the Indian pantheon of mythological deities. Represented as a short, potbellied man with yellow skin, four arms, and an elephant’s head with one tusk, Ganesha is the second son of Shiva and Parvati (a form of Shakti). As with all the Indian gods, there are innumerable myths surrounding his creation and his role in the universe.
Kagola, a poor student of the Vedas, sat at night reciting aloud the sacred verses of the Vedas, his pregnant wife by his side in the dim light of candles. One late night he heard a voice laughing and correcting him for mispronouncing a verse. The tired and short-tempered father was enraged, cursing the unborn child, causing him to be born with eight crooks in his body, naming him Astavakra for the deformity (asta meaning “eight,” vakra “crooked”).
This is where we can infuse our classes with creativity and playfulness. Shakti is the creative power of existence, the cosmic energy that animates the universe, the source of energy, the mother goddess, representing the active, dynamic principles of feminine power.
When Shiva’s consort Shakti was killed by the chief of the gods, Daksha, Shiva tore out his hair in grief and anger, creating the fierce warrior Virabhadra from his locks. With a thousand arms, three burning eyes, and fiery hair, Virabhadra wore a garland of skulls and carried many terrifying weapons. Bowing at Shiva’s feet and asking his will, Virabhadra was directed by Shiva to lead his army against Daksha
Shiva is usually represented in Indian iconography as immersed in deep meditation or dancing the Tandava upon the demon of ignorance in his manifestation of Nataraja, the lord of the dance (Zimmer 1972, 151–157). As an ancient form of magic, dancing induces trance, ecstasy, and self-realization. Shiva manifests in the form of Nataraja to gather and project his frantic,
The Sun Salutations that initiate many yoga classes are rich in symbolism. Surya is the chief solar deity who drives his chariot across the sky each day as the most visible form of God that one can see. It is also the ancient Sanskrit term for “sun,” which in most ancient mythology is revered, as Richard Rosen (2003) says
Reminding students of the essence of hatha yogaas a practice of balanced integration of effort and ease is a powerful starting point for making yoga more transformational, especially as students begin to explore and discover how the practice can play with the apparent polarities of life. Although typically reduced to “physical yoga,” the term hatha is made from the syllables ha and tha, which respectively signify the solar
The verbal root as in asana includes the idea of ritual, a set of actions with symbolic significance that we can tie into practice to highlight certain areas of personal, emotional, spiritual, social, and ecological experience. When teaching yoga, you can accentuate these ties by emphasizing the symbolism expressed in different parts of the practice.
Mailing: Mark Stephens,
c/o Santa Cruz Yoga, 402 Ingalls St., #11
Santa Cruz, CA 95060