The dance of the cobra ~ Bhujangasana   

As a small child, I was often haunted by snakes. I remember running wildly through the rugged terrain near my home in the Los Angeles hills…

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by Teresa Austin

Childhood Snakes

As a small child, I was often haunted by snakes. I remember running wildly through the rugged terrain near my home in the Los Angeles hills with the raw anticipation of what I might encounter in my daily adventures. In the fraction of a second, though, my childhood glee would be halted and my breath stopped. A snake and I would meet. My spine would tingle in fear and anticipation as to what this mysterious creature would do. Would it see me? Would it strike? Not only was I suspended in fear, but truly hypnotized by its powerful energy.

Little did I know that years later, I would come back to my childhood snakes, but this time in the form of yoga, in the great pose bhujangasana – cobra pose, and that my spine would be awakened once again in wonder.

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It is no wonder that snakes have had an important role in India for thousands of years. From the magical snake charmer seducing the venomous cobra out of its basket, to the mythical 1,000 headed serpent, Shesha Naga, India has long held serpents to be sacred. The mysterious animals were thought to be relatives to the Naga people, the ancient warrior tribe, which is believed to have dispersed throughout India around the time of the epic Mahabharata.

Cobra

The Celebration of the Snake, Nag Panchami

Animal worship has played an important role in India’s national culture for thousands of years. The celebration of the snake, Nag Panchami, is a festival that celebrates the snake, and all it represents: death, rebirth, and immortality. Devotees sprinkle turmeric, vermillion and flowers on snakes to honor their role in nature.

Some Hindu gods like Shiva, the god of destruction and transformation, and Vishnu, the god of preservation, are pictured with the cobra enfolded around them. Even Buddha is often represented cradled within the great snake. Vishnu is often seen reclining on one of the folds of the great serpent Shesha, who weaves throughout the celestial waters of the Milky Ocean. With the symbolic role that snakes have played in Indian culture, it is no surprise, that Patanjali, the great compiler of the yoga sutras and the forefather of modern yoga, is believed to have been an avatar of Shesha.

Kundalini energy is believed to reside in the realm of the great sleeping serpent who is coiled along the base of the spine, and once awakened through devout meditation, slithers up the spine toward the pineal gland and through the crown chakra ultimately moving one into divine Selfhood.

 

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The Practice

Like the snake that sheds its skin over and over again, we too shed our skin, over and over again, each time we come to our yoga practice. In each shedding, an energetic rebirth has the potential to take place.

Of course it is important to keep our spines supple and strong like the great serpent. For it is our beloved spine that holds us up and allows us to continue to move throughout life.

In elegant bhujangasana, or cobra pose, we get to know our spine. It is along the lines of the spine that we channel our inner cobra. Cobra not only provides back strength, but also massages our precious digestive organs, stimulating the swadhisthana and manipura chakras

In its full fruition, before it is ready to dance into attack, the cobra raises its great hood, just as we do, as we inhale our hearts forward. The snake also moves between the light of day and the darkness of the underground. Inhaling, we lift our cobra-hoods towards the light (joy); exhaling, we drop our hearts back down towards the earth into darkness (contemplation).

Cobra Pose

Snakes also teach us that we too should we be more in tune with our “gut instincts” as snakes are aware of their surroundings through their bellies as they feel the reverberations of the earth around them.

Let our breath then, our mystical snake charmer, seduce the energy of our snake spines to emerge vibrant and alive! And just like the mystical snake charmers who were thought to have strong ties to the gods due to their magical ways with cobras, we too can energetically tap into that divine space that resides along the lines of our beloved spine through the power of the ever graceful and strong bhujangasana.

 

Teresa AustinTeresa Austin is the creator of Myth Asana®, a progressive yoga practice that infuses mythology and symbolism within the beauty and strength of yoga. She has been a practitioner of yoga for over 20 years and a teacher for 10 years. Teresa was a world mythology teacher for many years and currently is finishing up her 1000 hour yoga therapy certification specializing in the power of symbolism and storytelling in a therapeutic setting. Her dvd is available at www.mythasana.com .

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Ramayana Series – Turning Within

In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding…

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In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding.

Ramayana—“Rama” is the name of the hero and the heroine, his wife, is Sita. . “Yana” means the tale of, or the journey of. The Ramayana is the story, tale or journey of Rama.

“Listen my friend, I love this Ramayana. We now live in the third age of time and Rama lived in the second age of the world. Ramayana has long been standing above all other stories. You must look up to find it. Valmiki put the deeds of Rama into musical verse. He clothed them in the sound of singing. Before Ramayana there was no poetry on earth.”1

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Valmiki is our first character. He is the one who writes the Ramayana. “As a young man, Valmiki searched through the world seeking open friendship and happiness and hope. And finding none of these, he went alone into the empty forest where no man lived to a spot where the Tamsa River flows into the river Ganga. There he sat for years without moving. So still that white ants built an anthill over him. There Valmiki sat inside that anthill for thousands of years with only his eyes showing out trying to find the true, his hands folded and his mind lost in contemplation.”

Valmiki, our first character and author of the Ramayana, is a young man searching throughout the world for happiness and true friendship. He holds these ideals in his heart and searches the world and can’t find them. I think that is something we can all relate to, in that we look at life and it’s filled with a lot of painful experiences, even though in your heart you hold this feeling or hope that there can be true friendship or true love. What we meet in the experience of life is often so painful.

Valmiki can’t find any of these so he decides to retreat in, deep contemplation and meditation. In a sense you can say that’s what you do in the daily practice of meditation. The world is full of challenges and your daily meditation is your ability to pull away from the world and free your mind. You turn your mind inward and allow it to sink back into perfection or into itself. Indian philosophy asserts that our consciousness has perfection in it. Our minds spread out into the world and take everything in and create our multifaceted experiences that can be really challenging. With meditation you’re able to turn your mind inward and trace back to that pure essence.

Mountain Lake

The Ripple Effect

“His mind lost in contemplation, then one cloudy winter’s day at noon the heavenly sage Narada, the inventor of music, born from Brahma’s mind flew from heaven down to earth. He knelt in front of Valmiki and said, ‘Come out. Help me.’ ‘ It’s too cold’, replied Valmiki. ‘Away with the worlds where a little pleasure costs a lot of pain. Don’t make trouble for me.’ ‘ Would I ever?’ said Narada? ‘See how life goes by with every creature doing what follow his nature’. Narada knelt and looked deep into Valmiki’s eyes. ‘Master, what can I say to inspire you to action’? Valmiki said, ‘Just name me one honest man and then I will move’. Rama said, ‘Narada. Now, come out of there.’”1

The Ramayana is multidimensional. Valmiki is on earth and Narada, who comes down from the heavens and seeks Valmiki’s help. We are told he’s the inventor of music and born of Brahma’s mind. In Indian philosophy, there are three main aspects of existence: Creation, Preservation and Transformation. Those are personified in Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Transformer. Brahma is the creator and Narada is born from his mind. Normally when we think about birth, we think birth from a body. Here’s a more subtle birth, born from Brahma’s mind. We bear things from our minds. We create a poem from our mind or we conceive of plans and then we act them out.

“Who is Rama?” said Valmiki. Narada answered, ‘Rama rules as king in Ayodhya. He is born of the solar race and is a descendent of the sun. He is brave and gentle and firm in fight. By Rama’s command his adorable queen Sita is being brought here in the forest in a chariot and though she suspects nothing yet, here she will be abandoned. Unless you comfort her, she will drown herself in the river Ganga. And kill as well her two unborn sons by Rama’. ‘What did she do wrong?’ asked Valmiki. ‘Nothing’, answered Narada, ‘Sita is innocent and blameless. She has lived as Rama’s queen for nearly 10,000 years. Before that, Rama saved her from great danger by wondrous and incredible deeds. And now behold one of the terrors of kingship that Rama must let her go and banish her because his people talk against her. Get up and save her life and let her live here with you and your companions and make and measure words the song of Rama and teach it to her two sons.1

Rama is born of the solar race, a descendent of the sun. This is also seen in Greek mythology a lot. Mortals mate with great energies, with the sun or the wind and give rise to some of the great heroes, like Hercules. We are interconnected with these great energies. We are human but we also have that great spirit inside of us.

Sita’s been banished by Rama and she’s going to be abandoned and starts to hear the Ganga, the river, murmuring to her, “jump in, jump in, take rest, find peace.” In the order of the universe, this can’t happen. Narada has come down to convince Valmiki to do something, to take action. Valmiki listens to this, and Narada implores Valmiki to let Sita live with him and his companions and to make and measure words the song of Rama (which is the Ramayana) and teach it to her two sons.

“’I have no companions here’, said Valmiki. ‘You have now. Coming here I sang a friend gathering song. Valmiki I’ve seen other skies than these, other worlds and other friends. People are counting on you and I can hear the chariot from Ayodhya with Sita approaching the Ganga.’ Valmiki said,’ I have no skill in any craft, even in words.’ Narada was silent then he spoke. ‘There, listen. I hear the chariot stopping. Right now, here they come across Ganga in a boat. Or will you also forsake Sita from fear of other people? Look she has discovered she is lost and the boat is launched back without her. Hurry, there the sunlight comes behind the dark clouds. There, the river goddess begins to whisper unseen bells over Sita and makes her swift flowing waters seem a warm, safe home. Act now, Valmiki. Call out and the rest will follow.’”1

It’s a beautiful idea: the friend gathering song. A beautiful hermitage pops up around him because of Narada’s song. Narada says, “I’ve seen other skies, and I’ve seen other worlds. People are depending on you.” In our own lives, our actions, our thoughts, our meditations effect a lot more than what we perceive in that moment. Every decision we make, every action we take, creates a whole interconnected chain of events. The more consciously we can take our actions and make our decisions, then that affect rolls out further and further down the road. The ability to see that our actions affect more than ourselves in that moment creates an expansion of awareness. Valmiki can’t see it, even though he’s the hero and has to take these actions and perform heroic deeds. He’s the one being called to action but the one calling him can see the bigger picture. 

Mountain Trail

We Are Our Own Hero

We are the hero of our own lives, we are the ones who have to step forward and take the heroic action. If you look at your own life, what do you have inspiring, guiding or motivating your actions and decisions? If it is television, the newspaper or things that aren’t that expansive of consciousness, then your decisions are going to be influenced by those things. You can energize or inspire yourself by the books you read, by meditating, and focusing on your spiritual journey. You can inspire yourself and bring into your own life the characters that help you see the bigger picture and inspire you towards action.

A good way to look at it is through the laws of attraction and manifestation. What you keep clearest in your heart, for example in meditation you’re bringing in a certain quality, holding that quality in your heart, that intention, that energy you hold in your heart is going to bring into your life the things that are connected to that. Again, spending time in meditation or good spiritual reading will keep your mind in that space and draw that to you. One of the teachings from the Indian philosophy is when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In the same way, when you bring yourself to a certain level, when you get yourself ready, then the teacher you need in that moment is going to come into your life. The more refined you can make your energetic output; the more you accelerate your growth because you’re clear and focused.

  1. Buck, William. Ramayana. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Print.
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