“Working hard is important, but there is something that matters even more: believing in yourself. “
J.K.Rowling (Harry Potter)
Life often presents us with many twists, turns, ups and downs. Having the resilience, strength, and ability to navigate our way takes skill, persistence, belief, and faith in ourselves. Yoga provides many tools to empower us… asana (the physical practice), dhyana (meditation), pranayama (control of the breath), mudras (energetic gestures), and mantras (a word, phrase, or sound that keeps the mind focused). Regularly taking the time to cultivate these practices is called a sadhana and this work keeps our body, mind, and spirit strong, disciplined, and powerful.
From yoga philosophy we can also gain wisdom and insights- the Sanskrit word shraddha from Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras (1.20) is a concept we can employ. An article
written by Rolf Sovik, “Finding Faith in the Spirit of Yoga,” from Yoga International, breaks down this word from two Sanskrit words shrat (shrad), which means “truth” or “faithfulness” and dha which translates to “to put or place”. T.K.S. Desikashar, a
yoga teacher considered by some to be the father of modern yoga, describes shraddha as “an unshakeable conviction in our journey.” When we have this conviction, we create the belief that we can overcome obstacles and bring about positive outcomes. In a video from Yoga Journal, yoga teacher Coral Brown shares that “Your shraddha is what defines you as being you. One could say your shraddha is reflected in your virtues and values, it is what defines your sense of Self, your character. Your character or your nature, determines your destiny and it shapes how you perceive, live in, and are motivated in the world.”
According to Rolf Sovik, “this kind of faith is not a secular concept,” but rather a strong knowing that based on doing this work we can experience first hand the results of the practice. B.K.S. Iyengar, a yoga luminary who contributed greatly to the physical and the spiritual aspects of the practice teaches… “shraddha is a simple faith that conveys mental and intellectual firmness.”
Often when we are challenged we can become doubtful, compare ourselves to others, question our gifts and talents, perhaps even consider giving up or giving in.
The myths and poses of yoga offer more insights and inspiration to stay the course and soldier on.
Many yoga poses we practice are rich in deeper meaning and connected to higher truth, wisdom, and guidance through myth. The yoga pose hanumanasana from a mythic perspective personifies shraddha. In a blog “Hanuman: A Leap of Love” written on Gaia.com, Sianna Sherman says “The stories and legends of yoga call us home to our own heroic heart. Each of us is on a hero’s or heroine’s journey undergoing various stages of initiation and alchemical soul growth. The language of the soul is metaphoric and mythic versus rational and linear. Stories are our gateways for embodied wisdom to arise in us and help us to navigate the challenges in our lives with curiosity, inquiry, and in the spirit of play.” Actually many myths of all cultures and traditions are based on the “hero’s journey” and how the hero (us), by overcoming and rising above difficult situations and obstacles, grows and ultimately becomes stronger, wiser, and even reborn in this process. Joseph Campbell, author and legendary mythologist, who wrote The Power of Myth and many other books on this subject said this- “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life, there lies the treasure.” Another of Joseph Campbell's quotes… “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.”
The yoga pose of hanumanasana (the full splits) with one leg leaping forward and the other leg stretched back is rooted in the mythical story of Hanuman a monkey and the servant of Lord Rama who demonstrates his complete devotion for Rama through several brave and amazing feats in the epic poem/tale known as the Ramayana. In an article written by Laura Rothstein at yogasphere.com she summarizes the part of the story from the Ramayana that relates to overcoming our fears/having faith in ourselves…
“During a horrific battle in Southern India, Rama’s brother Laksmana is gravely wounded. His only chance for survival is to be treated with a very specific and rare herb that is found at the top of the Himalayas. Ram is distraught and has little hope that someone could make it to the Himalayas, find the herb, and return back in time to save his brother Laksmana. This impossible task falls upon Hanuman as Rama’s servant because he is a son of the wind god Vayu, a powerful and intelligent monkey god, emblematic of devotion and thought by some to be the reincarnation of Shiva as well. Taking a mighty leap of faith across the ocean from the south of India to the Himalayas, Hanuman finds himself unsure of the exact location of the herb. He is innately guided to get ‘bigger around the situation’ rather than ‘getting lost in finding the exact herb’ and picks up the entire mountain range and carries it over his head while he leaps back to the battlefield. The healing herb is quickly located by experts and Laksmana is saved. Later in the Ramayana , Hanuman makes another great leap from India to Sri Lanka to reunite Rama and his beloved wife Sita. In the Ramayana there is an affirmation about Hanuman by Jambavantha, the King of the Beaqrs, honoring his resourcefulness (and shraddha) :
“You are powerful as the wind;
You are intelligent, illustrious, and an inventor.
There is nothing in this world that is too difficult for you;
Whenever stuck, you are the one who can help.”
For us in the 21st century, in our scientific, sophisticated, technology driven world, myths and legends may seem irrelevant, perhaps even childish, but if you look at the literature and films that we love, myth and specifically the hero’s journey, are a significant theme (Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Star Wars, Lion King, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Lord of the Rings, Matrix and so many more). Why does the hero’s journey and myths resonate so deeply with us and why are they important? According to Lorraine Caplan, teacher and educator, “Myth and legend are important today for a number of reasons. They have value as literature, offering timeless and universal themes. They give us insight into other times and places, and they help us see how much humankind had and has in common.” It seems these stories perhaps awaken something intrinsic inside of us that inspire.
Practicing yoga regularly challenges us to have faith and belief in ourselves, to be in our own wisdom, power, and to develop strength. Often we run up against our limitations- some real and some imagined. We may think or really have too little or too much flexibility, injuries, pain, or physical issues that restrict us, deeply embedded beliefs or patterns that prevent us from straying too far out of our comfort zone. By stepping in, stepping up to the many challenges we are led into evolution, it is a dance of venturing forward, stepping back, and hopefully finding both faith along the way and our way out of or around situations or circumstances that block our path.
Hanumanasana, in particular, is a challenging pose that can bring up insecurities we may have because it requires strength, flexibility, and stability to split the legs front to back and yet also keep the torso steady vertically over the pelvis. To accomplish this you need to have open hamstrings (muscles on the back of your thighs), hip flexors (muscles on the front of your hips and upper thighs) and quadriceps (muscles on the front of your thighs), abdominals, knee flexors and calf muscles, and shoulders, as well as a stable pelvic floor, transverse abdominis muscles (core), hip stabilizers, and internal rotators of the leg. Like any heroic journey we have to prepare with mindful sequencing … to lay the groundwork we can use poses like Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge), Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Hand to Big Toe Pose), Supta Virasana (Reclining Hero Pose), Upavista Konasana (Wide Angled Seated Forward Bend), Viabhadrasana I (Warrior 1), Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), Pavrivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose), Janu Sirsasana (Head to Knee Forward Bend), Backbends Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)/Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3), Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (Extended Hand to Big Toe Pose). We can use props like blankets, bolsters, and blocks to help make the pose more accessible. We can use the Half Hanumanasana (Half Splits) as a warm-up for or instead of the full splits to evoke the same energy and emulate the fearlessness of Hanuman. Whether we are able to practice the Full or Half Hanumanasana (or someplace in between) makes no difference because it is in the process that we are developing insights, and make progress. The benefits are available to us every step of the way by simply working on and preparing for the pose. It is in the work, the exploration, that we expand and see with greater clarity. Shraddha, our faith and belief in ourselves, comes into play here too- we have no need to push past where we are ready to go, to prove anything to ourselves or to others and always we want to remember that the poses themselves are metaphors, tools for us to become the best version of ourselves and they are the journey not the destination. Rebecca Pacheco writes in her book Do Your Om Thing “Doing a full split in class is wonderful but it pales in comparison to the importance of taking leaps of faith, whether small or large, daily life.
From Yoga Journal a mudra is a “seal”, “gesture”, or “mark”. Yoga mudras are symbolic gestures often practiced with the hands and the fingers and they facilitate the flow of energy in the subtle body and enhance one’s journey. Diane Clarke, in her book “Mudras -40 Powerful Hand Gestures to Awaken Your Chakras and Unleash the Healing Power of You,” writes that mudras are symbols that seal and stimulate the energy points between fingers. Our hands are an extension of our heart and are closely connected to our brain. This infers that every part of our hand has a reflexive connection to our brain making it capable of engaging and influencing specific aspects of our brain. Practicing symbolic hand movements or mudras can help align our thought process as well as revive our state of inner consciousness. She continues … mudras work at every level of our being-mind, body, spirit. With regular practice you can improve your health, and potentially heal illness, improve immunity, increase stamina and energy, reduce mental restlessness, stress, and anxiety. When woven into our yoga practice, ideally during or just after meditation, according to Diane Clarke, these mudras can help us to stay focused on and amplify our intentions making them more attainable and sustainable.
The mudra pictured above, the Fearless Heart Seal, would, in particular, align with and enhance the aim to have faith, belief in ourselves (shraddha) and to cultivate the discipline, strength, and the courage needed to overcome challenges, roadblocks, or deeply embedded habits that prevent us from reaching our highest potential. The picture, explanation, and directions listed below are from an article written by Sianna Sherman for Yoga Journal.com. Abhaya means “fearless” and hridaya means “heart”, “center or core of something”, or “essence”. This mudra helps to strengthen a fearless connection to your heart’s truth and grow our courage to follow that truth.
Directions from Yoga Journal on how to do this mudra:
Abhaya Hridaya Mudra Bring your hands together in Anjali Mudra (Prayer Mudra).
Cross your right wrist over your left wrist in front of your sternum, with the palms facing away from each other.
Bring the backs of your hands together.
Wrap your right index finger around the left index finger, then your right middle finger over your left, skip over the ring finger and wrap your right little finger over your left.
Draw the mudra to the root of your heart, at the base of the sternum. Hover the Courageous Heart Mudra in front of and around your heart. Stay here and meditate on having the courage to keep your heart open and loving, especially during those difficult times in your life when fear, hate, or anger pull you away.
● Connects you to your heart's truth
● Builds courage to follow your heart
● Rejuvenates one’s vital force
● Reduces fragmented thoughts
● Reduces scattered energy
● Imparts a powerful sense of vitality and calm
Mantras are another yogic way to harness our intentions, to manifest change, and to support our efforts to thrive. A mantra can be an affirmation such as I am strong, I am determined, I believe in myself. The mantra you choose can be repeated silently or said out loud together as a group before practice, during the asanas (the physical postures), or as we are finish class and head back into our lives or anytime we need bolstering up or fortification. We can also write them down and put them someplace we will see them keep them in our awareness. These mantras can reinforce and guide our actions, keep us heading in the right direction, and be a practice both on and off the mat.
Repeating a mantra in the ancient language of Sanskrit, like the Hanuman mantra above, can also be powerful according to Dr. David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies. Sanskrit mantras are said to have the ability to help alter our subconscious impulses, habits, and applications as well as direct the healing power of Prana (life force energy) to energize and access higher states of consciousness.
The Hanuman mantra would certainly be a good fit for overcoming trials and becoming the hero of our own story. A translation of this mantra from Yogapedia.com:
Om and salutations to Hanuman,
The embodiment of pure devotion.
May I be blessed with victory, success, strength, stamina, and power.
Mantras can also be chanted and/or sung. Here is a yoga playlist I created with a Hanuman chant and this theme of straddha/faith in ourselves weaved in.
https://www.meganmilleryoga.com/music.html - Hanuman playlist
A Resilient Spirit
All of us swim in uncharted waters, the changes we have seen and will continue to see are unprecedented and are happening so rapidly and demand so much from us. With everything around us constantly shifting, information being introduced, validating and invalidating what “we know”, so many opportunities to compare and judge “how we measure up”, we must develop a strong sense of ourselves, and listen to our inner wisdom and guidance and cultivate a resilient spirit. Hanuman once again is an example of this spirit. Rebecca Pacheco writes… "To know a sliver of Hanuman’s story is to know that he is devoted, strong, and true. Nothing stops him. Nothing fatigues him. In his faith, he finds boundless energy and a sense of safety. He reminds us that we’re more likely to leap when we believe in who’s jumping (ourselves!)."
Throughout our lives we will be challenged. We will go through transitions... some expected, some out of left field, some welcome, some unwanted, unsettling, or even difficult. To journey with a heroes heart we practice, develop, and embrace a fearless, tenacious, confident, and resilient spirit. “Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside of you that is greater than any obstacle.” Christian D. Larson