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, July 11, 2010

Developing Practice with Yoga Images

As a way of developing my understanding and going deeper into my Yoga practice, I collect and study myths, stories, and pictures of Indian deities. This week I've provided a few images and written some reflections on their possible meanings. These images are full of devotion and often connected to sacred stories that contain Yogic teachings. I've found that studying Yoga imagery and stories clarifies and shows the depths of the basic techniques of ashtanga practice: asana, pranayama, bandha, vinyasa rhythm, dristi, japa mantra, and meditation. Using Imagery allows you to withdraw inwards with more ease during practice. The myths and images of Yoga are meant to help create internal maps that show how to orient within the body to optimize awakening consciousness.

The scenes convey Yogic symbols that are powerful visual cues that are meant be absorbed within the body and within the deeper mind. They are purposely not meant to be absorbed in a merely intellectual manner, that is why they are presented as stories and images, and why they make so much sense as they occur to you when practicing. Using the stories and imagery helps you absorb the deepest aspects of practice but also there is a fun aspect to it, contemplating a story or an image is playful, sleuth like--absorbing, and fascinating; It's vexing and enlightening to muse over possible meanings and applications to practice. My hope for this post is to spark a curiosity in you, that you'll become steeped in the imagery of Yoga to the point that when you're practicing these images will arise from within your posture, from within your flow, from within your receptivity and concentration and guide you into how to orient your self with more wisdom, ease and soul.

I love this image because it gives you a playful, powerful, accurate image of an Asana's flow. Yoga postures are about striking firm, clear, rooted positions and becoming fiercely immovable. But also when you find 'the immovable spot', there is such a fluidity to it; it's much more like a ride than becoming immovable like a statue. But perhaps most important is I want you to take this picture literally, what if you were in the sea working on your seated asana's riding on an amiable fish. What would you feel? You would have to connect to the ground in an entirely different way. You would have to connect to the ground as not static--but in motion-- alive and with a fluidity not unlike the course of fish swimming in the sea. Depth in asana work requires you to tune into this kind of subtle motion of the ground under you. The image of riding a fish is a perfect analogy for how to tune into the 'fluidity of rootedness'. The earth is constantly in motion under your feet or seat and this will effect how you do your asana work. If you can become aware of this vibratory movement it will effect your entire practice. I also appreciate that this work was carved centuries ago, and thus shows that the animal energy and flow aspect of asana practice is ancient yet continues to thrive, is still developing, and will be passed along to the future generations of passionate Yoga artists.

This image must be unique in connecting seated asana's with swimming fish!--until now I never quite made the connection that fishes swimming in the sea are serious Yogi's!

According to the yoga sutra's when thoughts or feelings cause attraction or aversion within me, forces go into play that obscure my ability to discern and really be present. When I learn to concentrate and settle my mind then I see reality. During the times the mind is not settled, I don't see reality, but instead I identify with the various thought patterns. My mind continually spins out reality obscuring patterns. Even though their qualities are phantom like and illusory, somehow I'm repeatedly fooled into thinking that these patterns are substantial and real. Identifying with thought patterns translates into me reacting to sensations and experiences in automatic and habitual ways rather than with receptivity, flow, and with what is appropriate at this very moment.

It seems so simple to wake up, to see, to be alive and to respond creatively in each new moment. And yet the image of Durga riding a tiger shows how difficult it really is to live in a state where my mind is settled and I see things as they really are. Consider the tiger she's riding. The tiger represents illusion, desire, aversion, the powerful, root forces that cause the reality obscuring patterns of consciousness. The forces that cause me to misperceive reality are as powerful and dangerous as a wild tiger.

And the triumph of seeing through my illusions is on a par with taming and riding a tiger. As a goddess Durga has conquered illusion within herself, she has made peace with the forces within that cause thought waves to spin forth. This image reminds me of the mastery that can come to me so naturally when I orient as I'm meant to. Energetically Durga represents the source, wisdom, the hidden knowledge lodged in my heart. Her image shows me that my animal powers are meant to serve my heart wisdom. She shows me the proper relationship between the energetic forces within me where my Self (Durga) commands and (the tiger) my mind and senses serve my heart.

Symbology of the weapons:
Trident: symbol of the 3 guna's the primary strands or qualities (sattva, rajas, tamas) that make up all material phenomenon. Durga has achieved the ultimate Viaragya (detachment) in that the guna's do not push or pull her any direction. she has gone beyond the guna's and thus she can conquer even the most fierce demon.

The sword: the sword is a symbol for discrimination. Progress in Yoga means being able to think clearly and to see things with accuracy. Often in my lack of clarity, I misread my experience and so my mind causes me unnecessary pain. I place value on things that are not worthy and I undervalue the treasures that are right in front of and within me. My deep Self as Durga wields the sword of discrimination and thus is able to cut through this fog of ignorance.

The severed head: The real Self in my depths is fierce and symbolically severs my head from my body. This means my ego, my wrong ideas's about who I am and the petty self absorbed feelings and thoughts that normally rule my inner world must be killed. The locust of power within has to dramatically shift from a small ego centered place to a deep, large, powerful center that creates and embraces my self and others and realizes everyone's integral part in the cycles of existence that lead to Consciousness.


  1. thank you, david. this adds so much depth to my experience as i look at these images.

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  6. Many of the easiest Asana render most of the common benefits of Yoga to their fullest.i liked it

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  9. nice pictures - they illustrate how old yoga acttually is

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David welcomes comments on his posts, however, due to time constraints he is not able to respond to every comment.