The Hidden Wisdom of Yoga Mythology & How to Bring It on the Mat
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
Yoga is an ancient practice deeply rooted in the spiritual traditions of India, and a significant part of that is the connection to mythology. Yoga poses and practices are connected to the larger spiritual picture of yoga mythology. When we begin to understand and unravel the threads of these intricate stories, we shift into a deeper understanding of the significance of these practices both on and off the mat.
Yoga mythology can take a lifetime to understand, but we all need to start somewhere! In this article, we will go over the basics of yoga mythology along with the myths behind three common yoga poses. We will then explore how you can bring this understanding of yoga mythology into your yoga asana classes as a teacher. If you’re interested in learning more beyond this article, make sure to check out our yoga mythology course online as well!
Myths are essentially traditional stories that explain a deeper natural or mystical lesson, providing a profound insight into the workings of our universe. Although myths are commonly believed to be false stories or beliefs, when we look at them from another angle, we can see them as significant metaphors rather than facts that can help us connect to a deeper realm of life.
Yoga mythology is the compilation of myths originating from Indian traditions and yoga philosophy that help us understand why we engage in various yoga poses, breathing techniques, and spiritual practices. Yoga mythology adds a different perspective to these practices that moves us beyond the physical and into the metaphysical.
It is important to remember that although yoga is a secular practice and open to all people of any religion or culture, we still need to honor the ancient roots of yoga in India and Hindu philosophy or Sanatana Dharma. When we respect and understand these roots of yoga through unraveling yoga mythology, we are also respecting this ancient tradition and lessening the impact of cultural appropriation at the same time.
Yoga myths are not just some stories based on the past that are no longer relevant to your current life. Yoga mythology teaches us profound life lessons that metaphorically inform us on how we can look at the world and understand ourselves on a deeper level.
Remember, yoga is so much more than the poses. Yoga is a profound spiritual tradition that has the ultimate goal of the realization of your true nature and a union with your inner self and a higher power, however you might define that.
Yoga myths can sometimes feel inaccessible, particularly when you don’t have any connection to Indian culture. But when we get down to the essential meaning of these myths, we can realize the ultimate accessibility and universality of these stories, which is the true lesson of yoga anyways: that we are all one!
To learn more, make sure to check out our YACEP yoga mythology course online with Dr. Sandra Sluberski to dive even deeper into bringing yoga mythology into your yoga practice.
Triangle pose is one of the most commonly practiced yoga poses that involves forming the body into a unique triangular shape. But beyond the beautiful symmetry of this yoga asana, it also represents a key component of yoga philosophy and mythology called the Trimūrti, or the supreme trinity of deities in Hinduism. This trinity of deities is composed of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva.
On a deeper level, the Trimurti also represents the three main processes of life known as creation (Brahma), preservation or maintenance (Vishnu), and destruction (Shiva). Everything in our world is constantly going through this process of transformation. When we connect to these three energies in our yoga practice, it reminds us of the impermanence of life and the cyclical nature of samsara or reincarnation, which is a fundamental tenant of yoga philosophy.
The Sanskrit word for dancer’s pose is natrajasana, and Nataraja, or the Lord of Dance, is one of the many names of Lord Shiva, the God of destruction and transformation. Through his cosmic dance, Shiva destroys the evil in the world and the veils of ignorance to awaken us to the true state of the world.
Shiva received this name as the lord of dance after battling a demon and a snake sent to him by sages practicing superficial worship. After defeating this attack through his strong abilities, Shiva began a dance of bliss called Nataraja to show off his great power, beauty, and inner peace in a divine flow. This sacred dance also represents the flow of the movement of the universe and the ultimate dissolution of the cosmos.
Goddess pose represents the embodiment of the divine feminine. But this feminine energy is not the soft gentleness we often connect to femininity; rather, it represents the fierce strength of the Goddess Durga, who can launch into battle against any enemy she faces.
In goddess pose, you form your body into the shape of a trident, representing the trident the Durga holds given to her by Lord Shiva to fight against the evil King Mahisha. Using the strength of her trident, Durga ultimately defeated the king, protecting the people of the kingdom and earning her the title of the warrior goddess who eliminates the suffering of the world. Durga teaches us how to embody this ferocity while staying rooted in the divine feminine, honoring the greatness of women and their ability to protect others.
Monkey pose or Hanumanasana connects us to the energy of Hanuman, the monkey God. Hanuman is famous for his immense strength and abilities, but his true depth comes from the lessons he teaches us on surrender and devotion to a higher power.
Hanuman is a crucial character in the Ramayana, a famous myth about the life of Lord Rama. In this story, Hanuman is deeply devoted to supporting Lord Rama, giving up everything to be in his service. Hanuman traveled great distances and even carried mountains in service of Lord Rama, showing us how offering loving service to others can be the greatest sign of strength and courage.
Learning how to bring mythology into your yoga asana classes takes time, dedication, and practice. There is no one “right way” to begin this process of incorporating yoga mythology, so use this as an opportunity to get creative and find your own unique style. But there are a few key things to keep in mind as you start to bring in yoga myths.
The best place to introduce yoga mythology and yoga philosophy is at the beginning of a yoga class during a dharma talk. When you introduce the story at this point, it sets the tone for the rest of the class and makes it easier to incorporate the mythology at later points through the poses. You can also introduce yoga mythology as a student is getting into a particular yoga pose, but make sure to guide them into the pose before explaining the story to keep the flow of the class moving.
As you are sequencing your yoga class, remember that yoga poses are not the only way to incorporate yoga mythology. You can also connect yoga mythology to your yoga practices through mantras and mudras. Each Hindu deity has its own mantra, and we can further invoke this energy through relevant mudras that help us embody these lessons within.
For many people, yoga mythology can feel foreign and even uncomfortable at times. If you sense that your students struggle to connect with the yoga myths, try to lighten the story and make it more relatable by bringing it back to their personal life and culture. But remember that the purpose of yoga mythology is not only to entertain or engage your students; it is to bring them to a deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and themselves.
Yoga might be a newer practice in America, but it actually has extensive roots dating back to the spiritual traditions of India and Hinduism. When we begin to make these connections between yoga and Indian philosophy through yoga mythology, it adds a different perspective and profound depth to the experience of yoga you’ve never felt before.
Learning yoga mythology can take years of dedicated study, but our online yoga mythology course gives you the foundations to begin this exciting journey! Our YACEP mythology course with Dr. Sandra covers the basics of yoga mythology and teaches you how to start incorporating these profound lessons into your yoga asana classes so that you can become the yoga teacher that you’ve always wanted to be. Reach out to us for more information on how you can join our yoga mythology course online today!