The Power of the Myths of Yoga
by Alanna Kaivalya
The myths of yoga are captivating and timeless. Practitioners who have been drawn to the stories of the monkey god, Hanuman, or the destroyer, Shiva, know that yoga’s mythology is rich, complex and evocative of the human condition.
These myths have always captivated me in my years of study in yoga. Initially, I started studying the myths in college. I’d never heard such a magical plethora of stories and I was immediately hooked. There was something about the flawed characteristics of the characters I was learning about — Shiva’s temper, Hanuman’s forgetfulness and Kali’s passion for destruction — that intrigued me and made me feel better about my humanness. This seems to be the clincher that draws yoga practitioners to the myths — that through the illumination of the flawed aspects of divinity, we see the power of our own humanness through this lens. If gods can be flawed, can’t we then express divinity through our own humanity?
And, like yoga, these myths are very flexible, changing in response to the audience that needs them. They can be presented in a modern context to speak to real life and our present day condition. The stories of yoga are not exactly canonized, and so we find different stories of all the gods that vary not just from region to region, but sometimes from town to town. No one is “right” and yet every telling of the story reveals the brilliance behind these fantastic myths.
Different versions are often told based on the teller’s own experience and understanding of the myth. As they share their version of the story, we learn a different perspective, and we also learn something about what is important to the narrator. Their telling of the story will reveal the relationship they have to it, and in turn, it will influence the kind of relationship we build with the character in that story, too.
Through the mythology, yoga practitioners find they begin to cultivate a different relationship with the practice that goes far beyond the physical realm. Though many yoga practitioners begin yoga for the physical benefits, yoga is quick to reveal that there is something deeper going on here.
A little inquiry reveals the rich tradition of what yoga has to offer. But where to begin? The sutras may seem too scholarly. Pranayama may feel too austere. But, stories? Stories are embedded within the human psyche and help to illuminate every aspect of our lives. Stories allow us to connect to the tradition, to our teachers, our fellow yogis, and allow us to connect to deeper parts of ourselves. And they’re fun. It’s kind of a win/win. The mythology of yoga gives us access to the deeper realms of our psyche and brings our beloved yoga practice to life.
For example, when we first see an image of Kali — skin the color of night, tongue dripping blood, sharp teeth and necklace of skulls — the image can be overwhelming. Though, when we understand that she represents not just death and destruction, but the slaying of the ego and the power of the feminine to act with passion and urgency, we suddenly have a context for what that might mean to our lives.
Maybe it makes us think of our mother who went to hell and back to protect us. Maybe we think of an image we’ve seen on the National Geographic Channel of a mother lioness fighting for the safety of her cubs. Or, maybe we think of the Greek tale of how Orpheus had to go to the underworld to save Eurydice. Ultimately, Orpheus could not save the girl, but in making that journey, he was able to make the most beautiful music the world had ever known and so her death revealed a new power in him. Stories of all kinds give us deeper access to the things we cannot describe accurately, but that we can feel and understand on an innate level as human beings.
Because every myth illustrates some kind of human truth, every myth calls out to what is enlivened inside our own psyche. Every myth helps us to realize and bring about our true potential. This is the power of mythology. We find some kernel or ultimate truth in every story — a lighthouse that guides us home. The myths that speak to us are the ones we should listen to and follow… no matter what version we know. If it calls to our soul, we should follow it.
Alanna Kaivalya is the author of Sacred Sound. She is the yoga world’s expert on Hindu mythology and mysticism. Her podcasts have been heard by more than one million people worldwide, and her Kaivalya Yoga Method melds mythology, philosophy, and yoga.Visit her online at http://www.alannak.com.
Based on the book Sacred Sound © 2014 by Alanna Kaivalya. Printed with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com