Virabhadra: The Time Travelling Warrior

FLASHBACK to The Present: 6 April 2014

I am writing this in the early hours of the day. I love these hours. They are all mine. I still find it fascinating that this is how I see it these days. I have never been an early riser. In fact, if I didn’t sleep for eight hours of a night I was sure to feel quite physically ill during the day. My Mum once told me this was her story about her relationship to sleep. I’m not entirely sure if I used her story to understand my experience, or if it is a story that we share. But these days I am lucky if I get five or six hours a night. My disrupted sleep patterns started after a car accident a few years ago and so I was sure that it was a sign that something wasn’t right, something was broken, and hopefully with time it would heal and I would go back to ‘normal’. According to Chinese medicine, depending on what hour of the night you wake up, relates to a different body part’s ailment. If memory serves me, the 4am slot is associated with the respiratory system and anxiety. With this in mind, I tried to work through where I thought I needed help and healing. But to this day, I’ve never quite managed to go back to whatever I was before. It didn’t quite work out like that. And I find myself up before dawn more often than not. This is the new me. However, what I have discovered only recently is that I haven’t lost my sleep – my all important time for rest and repair – I have gained invaluable time for other things that I always thought I never had time for before. So now I write a lot, I read, I meditate. My story changed and then I changed my story of me.

This feels like a pretty amazing time for this kind of reflection to have cropped up, as it is the day that I am about to walk into teacher training and teach my first class with Natalie. Just us. It’s all ours. And so… what is it that is important to me – what do I want to share? What is my intention for the class? Why am I becoming a yoga teacher?! What does that mean to me?

Yoga is not just about a physical practice. Yoga is about connection. And we access this through stories. The stories we read about, the stories we hear about, and the stories we tell ourselves. Stories can be very powerful, wherever they come from. For example, I can read about Virabhadrasana and learn where this pose comes from – why the yogi’s before us have continued to tell this story. Why they – and now we – continue to practice this pose. If you’ll entertain me for a moment, I will summarise it for you now…

Shiva, the Lord of the Universe, had a wife called Sati whom he loved greatly with all his heart. However, her father, King Daksha, did not approve of their partnership. Since the beginning of the universe, his job was to oversee and regulate rituals and make sure they were done properly. Daksha, clearly making a point, made the terrible mistake of not inviting Shiva and Sati to a very special religious ceremony, a fire sacrifice. Distraught, Sati went along anyway and found that the ceremony was a farce; it was more about Daksha flaunting his wealth than any meaningful ritual. More importantly though, how can you hold a sacrificial ceremony without The Lord of the Universe – The Destroyer, as he is known – in attendance, from whom all sacrifice comes?

Sati could not bear it and took it upon herself to be the sacrifice. She threw herself into the fire.

Shiva, upon hearing what had happened, was overcome by grief. This soon turned to rage and he tore a hair from his head and threw it to the ground. This hair transformed into the personification of his emotions. Thus the warrior, Virabhadra, was born – the symbol of righteous anger, nobility and the defender of the innocent.

It is mostly irrelevant to me that this just happens to be a tale attached to the ancient religion of Hinduism, insofar as to say, where the story comes from is of less importance to me than the message behind it. Whilst I deeply respect the religious traditions, for me, yoga itself is not a religion, rather it is an art, a science and a philosophy for life. So, when I come to my mat, it is the message that resonates with me – the religious element does not get in the way for me. When I work through the warriors, yes, I am going on a physical journey; yes, my mental faculties are turned on in order to allow my body to work through the asanas, however what is most powerful is my state during this practice – what am I focusing on? What am I practising? These stories offer a point of focus i.e. what does noble mean to me? Where do I find strength or power? What do I stand in defence of – or quite simply, what do I stand for? Am I a warrior of peace? Of love? Of strength? Or am I practicing sadness, fear, anger, resentment; righteousness born out of ego rather than out of intuition and innocence?

By practicing in this way and by reflecting upon the way in which I practice, I can shift my focus not only on the mat, but also out in the big, wide world that is my life. This is when the practice becomes its’ most powerful. This is how it can open us up to allow our full potential to be illuminated: when we begin to rewrite those stories that we tell ourselves, in particular the ones that do not serve us.

FLASH FORWARD to Then and Now: The Unrelenting Mind Stuff 

 

Righto. Thanks for sharing. So… what? You really think you’ve worked it all out? You think you’re ‘The Shit’?

Wow, ok aggressive…I never said I was ‘The Shit’.

Thank goodness. Youre not. Trust me.

I know that.

Do you? I dont think you know who you are.

Oh ok, we’re playing that card are we? Careful! ‘Don’t make the baby cry!’ That’s sarcasm, in case you can’t read it.

You really think its that easy? You think you can just get up there, spout a few stories, assist a few people, project your voice, pretend youve got your shit together and people wont notice?

Why are you doing this?

Why are YOU doing THIS?

Because I love yoga. I love teaching. I love…

You love…what?! Go onyou cant even say it.

I was pausing for effect!

Thats bullshit.

What do you want me to say?

I want you to say I accept who I am. I love all of my weaknesses and all of my strengths!

It’s just fucking yoga. You don’t need to get so intrusive.

Oh yeah? Go on then. If its just fucking yoga then say it.

Why should I?!

Because its not just fucking yoga this is your fucking life. Wake up. Get involved.

What’s that supposed to mean?

It means, stop ignoring this conversation with yourself. It means keep blogging, keep exploring. Keep in touch with people. Be vulnerable. Actually find your edge, dont just look at it. You need to stay on the path to your authenticity. Only then can you truly start to live in the present. Enough of this flashing back and forward in time, arguing with yourself, with your habits of mind, your ego.

Really practice. Really live. Really talk to people. Really love. Really feel. Really connect. Really be here. In your body. In the world.

‘Unite the blueprint with the reality. Be the change I want to see.’ That kind of thing?

Are they your words?

Well, no, but I believe them.

Ok. But whats your story?

Oh…

Only you can create your own happiness. You said that, remember?

Yeah, yeah. I remember.

So

So…?

What are you waiting for?

It’s time to fly

 

…are you coming?

I’ll tell you what, if you like stories so much, why don’t you start here…this should get you going…

Advertisements

YTT: Yogic Wisdom for the Ages

As a primary school teacher, one of my great passions is working with children and young people. So when we were given an assignment as part of our yoga teacher training to run a mini workshop, my topic was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, my excitement led to an influx of books with a variety of similar sounding titles such as Yoga for Kids, Children’s Yoga Games, Yoga Education, Yoga Asanas and Myths, Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis…I say ‘unfortunately’ for my credit card, but fortunately for me.

I am an actor and a writer. I am a storyteller. I have always written stories or performed them. It is what I love. There is so much value in learning through experience and so much potential and insight to be gained from experiencing a good story – be that through reading it as an internal, individual experience, speaking it as a means to sharing and communicating the experience, or embodying it as a creative, physical experience – that I have decided that storytelling must form the basis of my workshop for children. Children naturally take to creative play in a way that adults can often be mystified by. Somewhere along the way, it gets lost or beaten out of us with the ‘grow up’ mantra of the over-twenties world.

We should celebrate our imaginative selves. We are a highly creative species who have managed to achieve unimaginable things to those who have walked the earth before us. The ‘back in my day…’ rite of passage is an exciting reflection of a world that is in constant flux. It is ever changing, never standing still. We are of a place in the universe that is unconcerned by time – it simply marches on – always in the present, never trapped in the past, and not quite of the future.
But this can be a terrifying concept for many. I, for one, have wrestled with this all of my life and am still certainly not at peace with this human construct we call ‘time’. Some days are better than others – as with all things. And this is when taking myself out of my mind and into a creative, more expansive dimension can be very healing.

In the field of anthropology, symbolic healing refers to the deep structure that appears to underlie the universal experience of healing. This experience often occurs spontaneously in response to a particular myth or a psychologically true story. Individuals recognise, often on a very deep and non-intellectual level, that a particular story ‘speaks’ to their sense of suffering. Their emotions attach to should in the story; and as they hear the story, contemplate the emotionally significant symbol, and experience resolution along with the characters in the story, they experience a healing transformation of a personal dilemma.
In Patanjali’s yoga, we have instructions on how to remove from consciousness everything that is not compatible with the enlightenment that is our natural state. We don’t become someone else, someone enlightened; we become our most authentic self, which is to say, someone who is enlightenment itself, once our self-imposed beliefs in limitation are put into proper perspective.
Through the practise of asana, we become increasingly conscious, not only of our physical bodies but also of our emotional an energetic dimensions. Asana is a mirror for self-awareness.
But the asanas we practice are only the tip of the iceberg. The tip…is so engaging in itself that, as yoga ha become increasingly popular in the West, we seem to have lost sight, or awareness, of what lies beneath the surface. The rich artistic and mythological tradition of India, when brought into consciousness along with asana, transforms each pose into a lens through which we can discover hidden facets of, an possibilities for, ourselves. Together, the pose, the story, and the artistic image enlarge the power and range of our self-understanding; and it’s been my experience that engaging with the poses, stories, and images can elicit a powerful experience of symbolic healing.

– Zo Newell’s Preface to Downward Dogs & Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis


In her introduction, Zo goes on to share her experience of finding yoga as a teenager. Excitingly, yoga is both of the ages and for all ages…

Fourteen is a vulnerable age. More than anything in my life right then, I needed an adult to tell me that in my inmost, realist nature I was valuable, eternal, already possessed of all the wisdom of the ages… As I understood it, sitting in meditation and moving in meditation – asana – were just different aspects of the same process. “Like matter,” said Doctorji, “sometimes a point, sometimes a wave.” He also taught us to chant, the feel of the Sanskrit syllables rolling around in the mouth and throat like grapes: om nama shivaya, or just Om. “It is all you will ever need,” he instructed. “Om contains the vibrations of all consciousness. Om will protect your mind. Om is God himself.