Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Befriending Hanuman

In order to provide some background to this weeks post, here's a super short synopsis of the great spiritual epic The Ramayana. God (Visnu) incarnates as a man (Ram) in order to destroy the demon Ravana. The story goes that Ravana, through performing rigorous austerities, became the undisputed king of the 3 worlds. Practically invincible, he became wildly corrupt and wreaked havoc on the balance of the universe. Earlier he had won a boon that ensured that almost nothing in existence could kill him. However, in his excessive pride, he neglected to include a human being or a monkey in the list of what could not kill him. So Visnu incarnated as Ram, in order to put an end to Ravana's tyranny. And Visnu's wife, Laksmi, incarnated as Sita. Thus Visnu and Laksmi were married on earth as Ram and Sita. After many twists in the story Ram and Sita were exiled to the forest for 13 years. Ravana heard of Sita, her renowned beauty, decided he must have her, abducted her through trickery, and carried her to his kingdom on the island of Lanka. Ram met Hanuman, the monkey God, during his search for Sita. Hanuman became Ram's devoted servant and ally; he led a search party for Sita and found her held captive within the Ravana's fortress on Lanka. Ram assembled an army made up of men, monkeys, bears and others who went to Lanka and defeated Ravana and his forces. And thus the Universe was restored to balance.

The Ramayana can be viewed from many perspectives; from one perspective, called the esoteric Ramayana, it is said that all of the characters and events take place within the body, within a person's psyche. Ram is the Self and Sita is buddhi; the great intuitive intelligence. Ravana is the ego with its attachment to all the organs of sense (thus he has 10 heads). Symbolically the ego steals away buddhi the intuitive inner wisdom causing a separation between intelligence and Spirit. This split brings darkness and pain and a feeling of lost emptiness void of Self. Yoga practice leads to rejoining intuitive intelligence (Sita) with the Spirit(Ram). Hanuman, leader of the search, is the main instrument in bringing Ram and Sita together again; he symbolizes breath, an unswerving devoted ally and servant who helps rejoin Intelligence with Spirit.

This weeks theme is on Hanuman and his connection to the breath in practice. Hanuman's connection to the breath can be traced to his father, Vayu, the wind god. Vayu is known as the 'life breath of the Gods'; as a wanderer, an explorer and a messenger of the gods. The word vayu means 'to blow' . When Prana (life force) enters the body it is known as Vayu and gets divided into 5 regions (Prana, Apana, Samana, Vyana, and Udana). The vayu's are directly in play when you work with the cycle of the breath using ujjayii and bandha's during practice. Metaphorically speaking Vayu is breath within the body and Hanuman is the child of breath. Thus Hanuman represents the fruits of working with breath, your energy, your urge to serve the Self. Hanuman epitomizes devotion to the highest possible degree; he is in many ways more revered in India than Ram due to his loyalty and complete self surrender to Ram. One time Hanuman was hanging out around a campfire with his monkey buddies. They started chiding him about his 'appearance' of total devotion to Ram. Hanuman listened for a few minutes and then simply stood among the monkeys gathered in the circle and ripped open his chest exposing his heart where a miniature Ram and Sita were housed. When Hanuman exposed his true heart, it only revealed his beloved, Ram and Sita. Working with breath as the center of your practice eventually gives you the gift of a fierce, loyal and strong ally devoted to Spirit.

From studying, enjoying and trusting breath, little by little you win strength, clarity, and stamina to cultivate free breathing in asana practice. You intelligently employ Ujjayii Pranayama, uddhiyana and mula bandha's, awareness of the piston like movement of the diaphragm and tuning in to the rhythmic action of the pelvic floor. By observing the cycle of the breath, the expansion (inhaling, Prana) and contraction (exhaling Apana) of the two polar opposite Vayu's, Prana and Apana, you harness the potency of Prana, of Shakti, of powerful life force carried on the breath. You become a shaper, a sculptor, a connoisseur, a scientist, and a lover of breath and move from the surface to the depths of the heart where your real longings are lodged waiting for you to find the courage and receptivity to listen to and respond to them.

This shift of inward movement can be reflected in small ways. Your capacity to immediately experience and feel what is happening within and around you changes profoundly. You care more in present time (instead reflecting days, weeks, months or years later) about what is happening inside of you. You watch to how you respond and get clear where your responses lead you. You understand where your attention is engaged and for how long and on what sorts of objects, emotions and thoughts. You learn to gauge the value of where your energy goes and to direct it more at will to whatever you choose. An acceleration of feeling, thought and awareness takes place and your capacity for intimacy and love increases as well as the ability to tolerate loneliness and being alone. These small steps of inward turning can lead to a deep flowing towards center, to spiritual knowing, to the creative expression that you are meant to bring forth to share. You are literally more alive and more intimate with your self and everyone and everything.

But notice the risk involved in this----when you breathe you really FEEL; when you really FEEL, you feel more expansiveness and joy and connectedness, but you also feel more pain, more grief, more of the hurt and loss that the world continually spins out. Once you dive in, you are in---you engage fully with whatever comes. To free your breath is to risk everything---love and pain. Bliss and grief. However risking is the only real option along with learning to face the independent, solitary path you are on. Authentic practice requires risking and opening to where breath leads you. Such openness and gambling gives you an emotional and physical power reflected in your stance towards everyone and everything you encounter. You become loving, unshakeable, rooted, centered, receptive and fierce; you belong here in this body and finally can walk the razor's edge that is required to continually ride the breath.

The demon Ravana represents the ego and the world and all that pulls towards mundane power. There is an irresistible attraction to that power. Ravana himself though an arch demon is known for his charisma and beauty, his learning, his skill in battle, also a fine musician, and even an ardent devotee of Shiva. The benefits of power that go with money, fame, position, even of partner, family, friends cannot not be ignored or underestimated. Your health and evolution partially depend upon your successful attaining and wielding of these powers. However, these are still lesser powers that don't compare with the ultimate power of Spirit.

You are Spirit and are meant to realize and express the unique little piece of individual Spirit that you are. It's built in to the challenge of the game that we are bound to hanker after the lesser powers and spend too much of our time and energy caught up in them either trying to win them or hating and somehow rebelling against them. Maybe we resist turning inward because the path of Spirit appears to be so lonely, independent and solitary. The power of Spirit is found within as opposed to the polarized outside where people and things can appear to dazzle and captivate our senses and longings; or the opposite where we respond to power by rejecting or being apathetic towards it. But either way, our energy is dissipated. Additionally, the negative aspects of ego are tough to root out as evidenced by the fact that each time one of Ravana's heads gets chopped off in battle, another head immediately sprouts anew to replace the old one.

When you undertake Yoga practice to awaken the healing energies that can guide you forward the only direction to go is inward. To be alone with your self. Yet the path seems so impossible to tread without help. And that is the necessity and appeal of Hanuman, the egoless servant who exists to serve the bent of the Spirit within. To access such an ally within ourselves is vital to our progress. Intimacy with breath and reflection can play a significant role in that connection, in realizing you are compelled to find your unique and original heart and Spirit. When you learn to focus with stamina and access your breath, when you feel fully plugged in to your body by the flow of breath, where breath is the center, where you feel breathed by the breath, then you become Hanuman, born to serve Ram; you become the unswerving, loyal servant and ally whose sole mission is to reconnect your intelligence with your Spirit.


  1. This is pretty far out. I'm excited to focus on the battle happening inside during tomorrow's practice. If it looks like I'm losing the battle of my psyche, step into the fight and help me win.

  2. Hi David and all my Philly friends... I was so happy when Rob alerted me to this and I know that I will be coming back to these thoughts and ideas for some time to come... I miss everyone at the shala and our mornings together... But I have settled back into Sydney pretty easily - we found an apartment only two blocks from my shala and two blocks from the beach! both of those things make me very happy :) I still think about you guys often, and especially when I step to the front of my mat to give thanks for all those who have walked with me and helped me on my yoga path... with love from Down Under, Sally xo

  3. oh sally, we miss you and your beautiful, serene practice and lovely smile very much too. you landed nicely on the beach for sure, but you'll always be a part of our philly yoga family! :)

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