Thursday, November 11, 2010

From "The Song of the Soul," or Atma Shatakam:

Neither knowable, knowledge, nor knower am I, formless is my form,
I dwell within the senses but they are not my home:
Ever serenely balanced, I am neither free nor bound -
Consciousness and joy am I, and Bliss is where I'm found.

This sixth and final stanza of the Atma Shatakam has significant meaning for me. I have meditated on it as a chosen "intention" through many, many asana practices, and have always felt its profound resonance with the same intensity each time. I first read it in Yoga Journal's black-and-white pictorial Yoga, which is a lovely book of master yogis photographed in the fullness of asana (some four hundred or more photos, I believe). For many years as my home practice, I would simply open this book and practice whatever variation I could attempt of whichever pose the book fell open to. (I highly recommend this practice if you ever find yourself in a rut...)

The passage above is a very artistic and poetic translation (from BKS Iyengar) of the original passage, which reads a bit differently when translated literally:

I am all pervasive.
I am without any attributes,
and without any form.
I have neither attachment to the world,
nor to liberation.
I have no wishes for anything
because I am everything,
every time,
always in equilibrium.
I am indeed, that eternal knowing and bliss,
Shiva, love and pure consciousness.

Meditating on this passage has done more to free me in my personal yoga practice than any other tool, because of its affirmation of the potential of the malleable or "formless" body, its relinquishment of attachment or aversion to any (even the best) outcome, and its reminder (reminiscent of The Gaia Theory) of our inextricable connection to the greater world.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


My reasoning behind a personal yoga blog has something to do with journaling. I'm not a great journaler, despite the fact that I love to write poetry and creative non-fiction. Going back and re-reading a wholly personal and entirely inartistic account of my days leaves me cold and usually causes me to blush and stop whichever journal I have very recently started. Thus, the blog. I hope this blog will encourage me to keep a committed and pictorial record of my yoga life.

My yoga journey is no different from anyone else's in its profound uniqueness. I have been doing asana since before I knew there was such a word--I used to watch television with my feet behind my head because I liked the way it made my back feel. When I attended college (the first time around), I took some very aerobic yoga classes and liked the way I felt afterward, but not enough to stick with it.

After having my first child at the age of 21, I bought a yoga tape (Ali McGraw's Yoga Mind & Body with Erich Schiffman) to help me get my figure back, but found that I liked the portions of the video between the asana practice where Schiffman talked mystically and spiritually most. The experience of hearing this yoga-speak encouraged me to begin a home practice of whatever yoga postures felt good (like the feet-behind-the-head I had loved in childhood) followed by a little (very little) meditation.

Many years later, as an ER nurse, I was asked by coworkers who knew me as a yogi to teach asana and meditation to children who had lost loved ones through trauma at a camp sponsored by the hospital where I worked. I was pregnant again at the time, but loved teaching the classes and could see the immediate and profound results in the faces of my tiny pupils. A few years later, I completed a 200 hour teacher training, and taught formal classes to adults and children (including children with autism) for about one year before making a decision to finish my graduate level degree in English and Creative Writing, which is where I am now. My life has always been driven by certain loves--yoga as the union of mind/body, the power of language and the written word, and naturally-inclined health practices for women and children, and no matter where I am or what I am doing, it almost certainly is related to one of these loves. I am better at flexibility than strength. I am better at stimulating my ajna chakra than I am at stilling my mind. I've a primarily vata-type dosha and have difficulty being still at all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Owl (Uluka)

The Owl, or the Uluka in Sanskrit, is Devi Lakshmi's vahana (vehicle); In Sanskrit, Uluka stands for an owl. Uluka is also one of the names of lndra, the king of gods, personifying wealth, power and glory. Thus, Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, could not have found a better person to ride on than the king of gods.

The owl is a bird that sleeps through the day and prowls through the night, and though this bird appears to be the unlikeliest vehicle for the lovely Goddess, there is a deep spiritual significance as to why she selected this creature as her mount.

This is because it can only see in the dark and goes blind in the day. This partial blindness in the creature is actually indicative of a sadhaka's (seeker) tendency of going toward the pursuit of secular instead of spiritual wealth. Her vehicle white owl takes her to the darker areas so that they can be enlightened and can be removed darkness of poverty, anger, laziness from her devotee’s lives.

It is believed that goddess Lakshmi visits only those houses which are clean; where the people are hardworking and sincere about their wealth. And that is why people who wish to acquire or to preserve wealth worship goddess Lakshmi.

The owl, in the Bhagavad Gita, is likened to an enlightened sthita prajna (the one who remains unwavering to any situation, whether it is happy or sad). Goddess Lakshmi is also said to be the mistress of spiritual wisdom. By keeping the owl as her vehicle, she teaches us to open our eyes to the light of the wisdom residing within us. This Karunamayi (Compassionate One) Mother, hence, symbolically keeps ignorance under her control.

Another interpretation is “Shut not thy eyes to the light of wisdom from the Sun of knowledge”. Out of consideration for mankind, the all compassionate mother has kept this personification of ignorance under her control.

In Orissa and Bengal, Lakshmi images include a white owl. In local belief, white owls have come to be associated with auspiciousness and good luck because of their association with the goddess.

Some say, Lakshmi rides the owl; others believe the owl simply accompanies her while she rides on a elephant, the latter being a more appropriate vehicle for the goddess who is associated with wealth, power, and royal splendor.

Because of the owl’s round eyes that never move and stare straight ahead, it has been associated with wisdom in many parts of the world, especially ancient Greece, where it was closely associated with Athena, goddess of wisdom.

The term "lord with circular eyes" (Choka-dola) is used in the East to refer to Jagannath, the form of Krishna-Vishnu worshipped in Puri, Orissa, leading to speculation that the owl actually represents Lakshmi's consort, Vishnu.

(sources: and and