If you think that yoga is only about our physical ability of entering and posing into a certain asana whether at beginner, intermediate or advance level, think again… and perhaps this book of Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language by Swami Sivananda Radha will help to guide through 22 or so classical Hatha asanas or poses. Radha explores the mythological meaning of each posture as she encourages the Hatha yogi to stretch beyond the physical.
As her student, Swami Lalitananda, author of Life of Asanas, mentioned that as we bring reflection into our Hatha Yoga practice, we learn to listen – not just to the body, but also to our thoughts, intuition and memories. We observe and acknowledge images that may arise in our minds, connected with the symbol. By being aware of the interactions between our body, our mind and the symbol, the pose deepens. Yoga is suddenly more than a workout at a certain time of a day. It becomes relevant off the mat. The insights gathered in practice can be carried into action. Life starts to change. Yoga comes alive. All of these, I am still learning very, very hard, while projecting that one day, I will be enlightened and all of the philosophy will fall into its relevant places.
I have been reading this book since March 2009 and kept on repeating myself on a random basis for certain asana, especially for those which I will practice in my next day session. At this stage, the symbol, such as mountain, tree, peacock, etc – will elicit a different response each time I practice.
Here is an excerpt of my favorites:
Mayurasana & Pincha Mayurasana
(The Peacock and Peacock Feather)
‘As beginners our intellect is only in the brain. You must have a million eyes, all over the body,’ – BKS Iyengar
Pincha Mayurasana is the Peacock Feather pose. The forearms and hands are placed firmly on the floor, the head raised. The legs are lifted up so that torso and legs are perpendicular to the floor. The pose resembles a peacock feather or a peacock with its tail raised.
The peacock with its beautiful crown is the emblem of Saraswati, the Indian goddess of wisdom, music and poetry. Even Laksmi, the goddess of wealth and plenty, avails herself of a peacock to ride. This bird of kings and gods is a suitable symbol for the aspirant’s striving for the highest.
Mayurasana demands great strength in the wrists and arms, and a tuning into the balance of the body so the hundred eyes of the peacock’s tail point to vigilance rather than to beauty. There is little room for vanity when the weight of the whole body is carried on the small area of the hands. Facing downward, the eyes can only look at a small area on the ground.
The paradox of the symbolism of the peacock is evident in the postures. They are difficult asanas for many people; one must overcome pride, bodily fear, fear of not completing the pose, fear of not being able to do the right thing, fear of showing weakness. And yet the beauty in the spread of the tail holds out a promise. Even a single feather represents the third eye of all knowledge and heavenly Light. The spread of the tail of the peacock is an incomplete circle. This shows that we can never see everything at once; we can see only the top, which is comparable to the first state of realization.
Observing the body
These are difficult poses for many people. In order to even attempt them, you must overcome pride, fear of not completing the pose, fear of not being able to do it right, fear of showing weakness, as well as bodily fear. But remember, the peacock holds a promise of knowledge and beauty. Observe your body in this posture. Record your observations.
Reflect on the word ‘peacock’ or ‘peacock feather.’ What thoughts and images come to mind? Write your key words or main associations. Do the asana, with one of your key words or ideas in mind.
Questions and Reflections
Focus on one of the following questions while in the Peacock or Peacock Feather. Move in and out of the pose, letting thoughts, body awareness and insights arise. Write about your experience.
a) Can beauty be symbolic of your aspirations, of perfection beyond the world?
b) Where will you find perfection?
c) Ask yourself: Does pride blind me to my ugly side? Or does it make me oversensitive to my imperfections?
d) As you come up into the Peacock Feather, ask: What does it take for me to make a leap of faith?
Visualize yourself doing the pose – Visualization benefits the body and can also prepare the mind for the more challenging asanas. During the visualization, you can work with any of the reflections and questions to gain deep psychological and spiritual benefits.
Start by taking a moment and agreeing to give your imagination the power to move fully into the pose. Then see yourself preparing by placing your forearms on the floor. Visualize yourself concentrated and aware, embodying the lightness and beauty symbolized in the peacock feather. Feel awareness throughout your entire body as you walk your legs forward, experiencing the momentum as you naturally list off. You can visualize yourself placing your feet against a wall, or you can find the point of balance free-standing.
Feel the concentration it takes to hold the pose: the openness and freedom in the front of the body, the smooth curve in the back, and the wonderful lightness of suspension. Now see yourself moving out of the pose, bringing your legs down with a sense of control, and uncurling the spine. Feel your feet lightly touch the earth and allow yourself to rest deeply in the child’s pose.
[This book was given to me by an old friend of mine, Linda Surya. Namaste.]