Week 5

Hindu Deities


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Class Schedule

Mon. Oct. 24, 6:00 am Sunrise Yoga at Fallout Yoga Siva Nataraj: "Why Is That Dude Standing on a Baby." 

Taught by Ashley Detrick

Mon. Oct. 24 5:50 pm Power 1 at Fallout Yoga Ganesh is my Homeboy

Fri. Oct. 28 5:50 pm Power 1 at Fallout Yoga Akhilandeshvari: Goddess Never NOT Broken

Sat. Oct. 29 10:30 am Restore at Fallout Yoga Sarasvati: Goddess of Music, Wisdom, and Art


Reading Schedule in The Heart of Yoga

Chapter 8 The Things That Darken the Heart 

Chapter 9 Actions Leave Traces 

Chapter 15 The Many Paths of Yoga

I don't consider myself Hindu, but I love the religious stories in Hinduism. For me, the deities and their stories illustrate beautiful universal truths. Plus, I love a good story and the Hindu religion is full of fantastic stories.

Now, you don't have to be Hindu to practice yoga. In fact, T.K.V Desikachar, the author of the book in this course, The Heart of Yoga, and one of the world's most authoritative  voices on the topic of yoga, says that yoga is bigger than yoga, meaning that yoga is bigger than any form of dogmatic or religious belief. Though the germ of yoga is in Hinduism and pre-Hinduism, the experience of yoga isn't relegated to any one religious practice. In fact you can allow yoga to help you become a better version of anything you believe (or don't believe, for that matter). 

Still, understanding the deities and stories that surround this practice, whether Hindu or not,  can help you both understand the practice better as well as understand yourself better. And if you don't identify with Hinduism, it's always a good idea to be more enlightened about other cultures, practices, and religions. 

I've chosen five hindu deities that I'd like to illustrate through this week's practice:

  • Shiva Nataraj: The Royal Dancer
  • Shakti: Goddess of Energy 
  • Ganesh: The Elephant Headed God
  • Ahkilandeshvari: Goddess Never NOT Broken
  • Sarasvati: Goddess of Music, Wisdom, and Art.

Shiva Nataraj: The Royal Dancer

Why is that guy standing on a baby?

Yoga synthesizes ancient wisdom with our modern circumstances to provide a practice for being in the world and for understanding ourselves. Yoga's many ancient symbols and philosophical tenants can seem not only confusing to modern, western practitioners, but also down right alienating. I'm always asking the question, "So what? What does all this ancient wisdom and symbolic gobbildy gook have to do with waking up each morning, dragging my butt outta bed, and going out into the world to live another day?" Well, let's see.

So, the Dancing Siva, or Siva Nataraj (meaning royal dancer), is a statue that tells many stories. To understand the mystery of the squashed baby, maybe we could look at several of the symbols in this statue. First, it represents an idea of the creator of the Universe who propels the continuous dance of all things. Shiva's limbs illustrate this cosmic dance of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

In his first hand, Shiva's holding a drum, laying down the beat, the vibration that quickens everything in the universe. Modern science says that everything is vibration, frequency, from the smallest particle to the largest galaxy. As a musician, I like that idea of the universe being created by DJ Shiva laying down a steady backbeat that makes everything in the universe pulse.

Next Shiva is holding out his hand, fingers up, palm out, in the Abhaya mudra. A mudra is a symbolic and energetic hand gesture. This mudra represents sustaining. Shiva's saying, "Hey, man. I got you." Things were created and then are sustained or stay in motion.

Shiva's third hand and holds a flame. It says not to get too attached because everything changes. Things wilt, fade, and die. Physics 101: energy and matter cannot be created or destroyed, rather it simply takes on a different form: leaves fall, become mulch, soil, nutrients, reabsorbed , become another leaf, etc. This might be a practical understanding of reincarnation. Let's not get into that here. What I'm getting at is that Shiva is suggesting that change is the program.

Shiva's fourth arm crosses his chest concealing his heart. He's telling us that you don't get a free ride to know the heart of God, or your own deep divinity. To know this heart you have to work to see it. And translate "God" however you want, the divine part of yourself, a supreme being, you choose. Either way, you can't be a wall flower in this cosmic dance of existence. To really appreciate the fact that everything is moving you gotta to join the dance, gotta shake your booty, gotta be willing to scuff your shoes and sweat. But hey, the dance enthralls us.

Ok. This still doesn't explain why Shiva is doing Riverdance on this poor creature's back. So, with one leg, Shiva is standing on a creature known as Apasmara. It looks like a baby, sometimes a demon, sometimes pig-like, and while this seems a little callous of Shiva, this action is actually quite compassionate. That's because this Apasmara isn't a baby but a creature that represents our own ignorance. He knows our divine potential and won't stand for anything less. So, while one leg stands on this demon-thing, his other leg is lifting in a gesture that invites us to rise from that old, ignorant self into a new understanding of ourselves. He's revealing our true nature and with that perspective also revealing to us a new relationship with our old circumstances. He is the dance partner inviting us to rejoin the dance of our life, with new understanding, through the continuous dance of birth, sustaining, death, and rebirth. He's telling us to constantly reinvent our relationships, our jobs, and our passions.

And THAT is why Shiva is standing on that thing that looks like a baby. My hope is at very least we understand this symbol a little better. Maybe this week when we are practicing yoga under Shiva's calm gaze, in all his dynamic magnificence, we might remember some of the reasons we practice yoga. Maybe we can use the symbol of Shiva standing on Apasmara to allow this transforming practice of yoga to give us the strength, hope, and clarity, to take action in our lives and commit to reinvent it over and over again in this wild dance of our own existence. 

Shakti: The Goddess of Energy

Another manifestation of Shiva is of consciousness pure and simple. Another word for this in Sanskrit is Perusha. He is the primordial male energy. The reason I bring him up is because the perfect and equal balance of Perusha, is the godess Shakti demonstrating Prakriti or movement, change, beauty, flavor, and suchness. She's the primordial female energy and represents  Mother Nature. There's a beautiful marriage between Shiva and Shakti, Perusha and Prakriti, consciousness or being and our physical and changeable nature. 

The following is a recording of me telling a story about the marriage between Shiva and Shakti which was told to me by Sanskrit scholar, Chris Tompkins. I hope this story helps to illuminate the concept of Shakti.

It's said that the Shakti power within all of us resides in our sacrum, the sacred bone close to our root that generates our deepest power. Through yoga, meditation, mantras, and ceremony, this power may be released and is felt as physical energy which moves up the spine along the nadis Ida and Pingala, primary paths of prana (male and female), and that power once released is called Kundalini. Many practitioners have described the physically enlightening moment when their Kundalini awakened. Kundalini Yoga is a style of yoga whose practice is to make this power rise through its practitioners. 

Ganesh: The Elephant Headed God

Om Gam Ganapataye Namah 

This is the chant to Ganesh, the mythical figure in Hindu iconography who represents the remover of obstacles, the gatekeeper between the earthly world and the spiritual world. Here is one version of his story. 

According the Hindu mythos, Siva and Shakti represent the primordial male and female entities of the universe, the creator and mother of the universe. They are represented by the familiar eastern symbol, the yin and yang. In this symbol, the dark side represents the female aspect of the universe (not necessarily gender), embodiment, cool, dark, and movement. The light side represents the male aspect, energy, spirit, warmth, and awareness.   

Early in the history of this myth, Siva was often away from Shakti as he attended to the responsibilities of ruling the universe. As happens with all newlyweds, eventually the honeymoon period seemed to be over between the two of them. Often, Siva would return home from his responsibilities of creating the universe and without much sensitivity, he felt entitled to Shakti's bed chamber. Shiva only craved the physical and Shakti craved the spirit. 

Once again when Siva left, Shakti mourned the lack of intimacy that they once shared. So, from her laughter, Shakti created a son and named him Ganesh. As the son of embodied movement, Ganesh was an amazing physical creature. In addition to giving Shakti companionship and love, Shakti gave Ganesh the charge of guarding the gates to her bedroom; under no circumstances was he to allow anyone to pass.  

As you may imagine, when Siva returned home, as per his habit, he marched straight toward Shakti's bed chamber and was met abruptly by this new creature, Ganesh. "None shall pass," said Ganesh (I'm thinking of Monty Python, here). Annoyed, Siva sent some of the members of his posse to go and take care of this little boy blocking the way. As the son of Shakti, Ganesh proved to be a powerful creature and probably looked like the young Vin Diesel of Hindu Gods as he cleaned house with Siva's brute force. As Ganesh was more than holding his own against his attackers, Siva started to get a little nervous.  He thought, "This won't look good if this little kid takes care of my posse. Even worse if he then schools me," Siva thought. So while Ganesh wasn't looking Siva threw his trident and beheaded Ganesh.  

Hearing all the commotion, Shakti came out of her room and saw her now dead son on the floor. She threw the stink-eye at Siva as if to say, "Fix this. NOW."  Siva, seeing that he was in hot water, told his right hand man to go and find him a head. Any head. He returned with a head-an elephant head. Siva said, "This will have to do." And with that, brought Ganesh back to life. This story taught Siva that even he needs to earn entrance into the gates of the sacred chamber, into the temple.  

The symbol of Ganesh helps to remind us of several aspects of our yoga practice as well as our practice of daily living. Many of the depictions of Ganesh show him sitting with one of his legs in the enlightened pose of lotus while his other foot rests comfortably on the ground. This teaches that while we are seeking spiritual progression, we must also keep our contact with the physical world. Even more than that, it shows that the path to spiritual expression is often through the magic and joy of the physical form. Our yoga practice is the perfect example: we move our bodies as a tool which points to the spirit. Every time I see someone roll down the road on their skateboard, I think of that soul experiencing a touch of enlightenment through the bliss of motion through time and space. Whether skating or performing asana, we allow ourselves the indulgence of the underlying form of mind and heart through the physical machinations of the body. Through the body, we give ourselves a tangible connection to spirit. 

The gateway to the body is the connection between ground and body: the pelvis and hips. 

Listen to the mantra for Ganesh

Akhilandeshvari: Goddess Never NOT Broken

This amazing Goddess sources her power from acknowledging the fact that she doesn't have her shit together. It's not that she's a hot mess and refuses to do anything about it. Rather, she refuses to shy away from those harsher realities we all go through: heartache, disaster, crisis, and grief. Akhilandeshvari is the compassonate Goddess who remains broken into pieces to show us how that too can be a power. 

Sage, Saint, Poet, and Song-Writer Leonard Cohen nailed the essence of this Goddess when he penned these lyrics in his song, Anthem:

"Ring the bells that still can ring.

Forget your perfect offering.

There is a crack in everything,

And that's how the light gets in."

Even the rhyme is broken. This powerful lyric  


Even her ride is a reminder of her ability to hang with disaster. She rides around on a ferocious crocodile to remind us that the very fear of disaster can be the vehicle for transformation, for stepping into action, and for seeing the absolute Truth in the moment. Often in times like these, what is most important in life shines through. That's the power of Akhilandeshvari.

While we may never wish for an encounter  with Akhilandeshvari, her presence marks the absolute truth of freedom from habits that don't serve us, stifling routine, and the past. Though it may not be the path we'd chosen for this awareness, her presence unmistakable wakes us up. 

Akhilandeshvari's  sister Goddess, Kali, similarly deals with distruction but in a fundamentally different way. She's the one who deals the blow with her uncomprimising sword. Opposite is Akhilandeshvari who yields to the destruction in submission and humility as powerful teachers. 

May we borrow the power of Akhilandeshvari's ability to transform heartache and crisis into illumination.

Listen to this amazing song by Shantala about this wonderful Goddess. It's featured on their album, The Love Window


Amba Parameshwari Akhilandeshwari

Adi Parashakti Palayamam

Shri Bhuvaneshwari Raja Maheshwari

Ananda Rupini Palayamam

Sachidananda Rupini Palayamam

Ma Ma Ma Ma

Ananda Mayi Ma Palayamam

Sachidananda Mayi Ma Palayamam 


Sweet Mother, You are the Supreme Divine,

Empowering All, you are the Whole, Everything!

Primordial One, Creativity Supreme, protect me!

Auspicious One, Goddess of the Earth, Great Goddess of the Sovereign

Whose Form is Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, protect me!

O Mother, O Ma! O Mother made of Bliss! O Mother, protect me!

O Form of Being, Consciousness, and Bliss, protect me! 

Please take the time to read what my dear friend, Nan Seymour wrote about this topic, How to Ride a Crocodile

Read it, love it, then please join Nan and me for our next Dream and Write workshop at Snowbird on November 20th.

"When I first heard the story of Akhilandeshvari, my teenage daughter’s life was at stake. There’s not a pleasant way to talk about this, but every day there was a possibility of her extinguishing her own life. She had attempted and survived multiple times, the most recent attempt at the time was a vehicular attempt. Although she had crawled out of my upside-down and crushed Toyota Rav 4 miraculously unscathed, I was still spinning. At age sixteen, my only child had dropped out of school after being bullied as a gay boy, which she wasn’t. She was a transgender girl.

I had no idea where we were. I wanted a map, but we didn’t even have breadcrumbs yet. I just knew we were lost in perilous territory. My parasympathetic nervous system was wracked from being vigilant. We lived alone, so I was the only one there to hide pills, ropes and knives, the only one there to assess ordinary household objects for the ability to harm and the only one there to listen in the night. I was terrified. . . "