Book Review: Myths of the Asanas

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I am a huge Yoga Dork. I love talking, practicing and learning about yoga. Now I definitely enjoy other things too. It’s just that there’s so much to learn in the yoga world and everything I learn makes me want to learn more.

One thing that I always wondered about was where the names of the postures came from. Some are pretty self explanatory, for example Downward Facing Dog & and Upward Facing Dog. If you’ve ever seen a dog wake up from a nap you have seen where those poses came from. Others like Warrior I are a little less obvious but plausible. Then there are postures like Dolphin (Down Dog but on your forearms) and Dancers (a balance where you reach behind you to grab one foot) that just don’t seem to make any sense. Most of the time it’s not that important to know why they’re named such. Can you do Dancers Pose even if you don’t feel like a dancer? – yes. But sometimes knowing the reason behind a name helps to unlock the meaning in a posture.

Myths of the Asanas delves into the poses and where the names come from. Not every pose is mentioned in the book (there’s SO many) but it covers a lot of poses and a lot of myths. In the introduction the author says “the myths behind the asanas are intended to serve as inspirational guides that can enhance our yoga practice, fueling it with a deeper, meditative quality”.

The postures are split into four categories: Poses of the Yogi, Poses of the Gods, Poses of the Sages, and Animals & Earth. I would tell you everything I learned (I said I love to talk about yoga) but instead I’ll just mention just two.

Lotus Pose, Padmasana, is under the Poses of the Yogi category even though it’s named for the lotus flower. It’s the quintessential seated meditation posture (but not necessary for meditation) and looks nothing like any flower I know. The book talks about how the lotus flower grows in canals and swamps in India, even heavily polluted areas. Planted beneath murky water the seed takes hold and the grows up towards the sun. Just as we yogis sit, grounded and stable to sit tall and reach our hearts high. It’s not easy for the lotus flower, but it reaches up and then blooms, opening to the light.

”Much like the lotus seed, we may often feel stuck in this muck of labels and separateness. Then by chance, we may receive a little wisdom… And so our journey begins. From there we move through the distorting water of our limited understanding and reach for the light of wisdom…. The promise of yoga is that eventually, through enough nurturing and determination, we will surface above the water and realize our full potential.”

Possibly my favorite myth was about Hanumanasana or full split pose. It’s also known as Monkey pose because Hanuman was a monkey god who, when he was young, was cursed with short-term memory so he would never recall his power long enough to do harm. Hanuman grew up to be good friend with King Ram whose wife Sita was captured and taken away. Hanuman set off to look for Sita and came upon the ocean. Not knowing his full power, only knowing he had to rescue Sita, Hanuman jumped across the ocean. Hence the full splits symbolizes him jumping, one leg reaching forward the other trailing behind.

The important part of the story is not that Hanuman is a god and capable of jumping across an ocean, because he didn’t know his power. “Hanuman teaches us that there is one thing that allows us to override all our doubts and fears. That one thing is love.” Hanuman’s complete love for King Ram and Sita was what caused him to jump. And he teaches us that we too can leap across obstacles if only we have faith.

“It is said that the difference between the hero and the coward is that the hero acts. When fear stops most, the hero, filled with faith, pursues the seemingly impossible, knowing that it is the only way to soar to new heights.”

Have these new insights into the myths of yoga completely changed my practice? Not completely. But they remind me how much yoga can do. It’s not just about opening your hips or hamstrings, it’s about potential and faith. We can do so much more than we think we can. Just like Hanuman, we forget how powerful we are and yoga reminds us.

–Gretchen

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