The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian Mythology That Inspired 50 Yoga Postures brings well-known yoga postures to life by explaining the captivating stories from which the poses grew. The stories are told by scholar of Hindu mythology Dr. Raj Balkaran and are paired with vibrant illustrations by Devika Menon.
“Some consider mythology as history, while others consider it as fantasy. Irrespective, myths are tools for making meaning, most importantly about what it means to be human,” writes Dr. Balkaran. The tales compiled in this book are enlightening for all story lovers and yogis. Those interested in Indian tradition and yogic philosophy, beginner yogis and yoga teachers searching for inspiration will surely find fulfillment in this book.
Each story features Dr. Balkaran’s telling of the myth that aligns with the yoga pose of focus, important themes from each story and a sum of the lessons attributed to each passage.
Dr. Balkaran expresses, “Above and beyond facilitating a physical posture, the stories told in this book are aimed at aligning one’s inner positioning, orienting one toward personal growth and yogic aspirations.”
In the story of Śiva’s Mountain Abode, Dr. Balkaran explains the origins of Tāḍāsana (Mountain Pose). Because the earth is suffering a drought, Gaṅgā, the great celestial river, descends to the planet at the request of Śiva. The event unfolds, “ … Gaṅgā flung herself from the Heavens, downwards to the earthly plane … Śiva positioned himself so as to receive the turbulent might of Gaṅgā upon his own head. Thus, as she descended, the celestial river found herself slowed, calmed, and grounded by the yogic presence of the lord.” This story makes obvious the importance of a sturdy, grounded foundation and the powerful effects of attention. Dr. Balkaran explains, “Like a tree whose roots burrow down toward the center of the earth, so, too, does the yogī plant their feet firmly on the floor in standing tāḍāsana …This energized, attentive standing is more than milling about, it is the standing which we refer to when something stands the test of time.”
In another thrilling story, Dr. Balkaran teaches about Garuḍāsana (Eagle Pose). The story, Garuḍa, Viṣṇu’s Eagle Mount, introduces readers to Garuḍa, who was a “natural king of the birds,” born extremely strong, bright and powerful. An exciting series of events leads to Lord Viṣṇu rewarding Garuḍa’s tenacity with immortality and freedom. Explaining Garuḍāsana, Dr. Balkaran states, “In order to maintain this posture, one needs to be fully centered, focused, balanced. Imagine yourself riding a powerful eagle across the heavens, finding stillness in the flight.”
In the story Kṛṣṇa’s Divine Play, Dr. Balkaran tells readers about Bālāsana (Child’s Pose). He unfolds the story of Kṛṣṇa — the young incarnation of Viṣṇu, the “Lord of the Universe.” This story teaches us the importance of staying grounded in serenity and play. Dr. Balkaran says, “In many ways, the spiritual question is one of regaining our childlike mindset within the context of a more matured awareness. When engaging this pose, connect with the calm grounding of a child who feels safe and content.”
Dr. Balkaran explains Añjaneyāsana (Crescent Moon Pose) in the story Hanumān’s Feminine Power. We are introduced to a civilization of monkey-people whose strong, caring leader reminds her son to be a warrior driven by devotion and selflessness. In one instance, the leader, Añjanā teachers her son, “You are a great and powerful warrior without question, but your true power will come from within, from devotion, surrender, sacrifice, and service to something greater, just as water, because it is soft and yielding, has strength enough to dissolve mountains.” Dr. Balkaran explains, “The feminine and masculine work in tandem, and their essence runs far deeper than biology or sociology. These two principles inhabit all people, and the work of yoga is concerned with bringing them into balance.”
Dive deeper into your understanding of yoga and Indian tradition with The Stories Behind the Poses: The Indian Mythology That Inspired 50 Yoga Postures. By adding richness to your yoga practice, the book is a guide to understanding yourself and your world deeper and more authentically.
Available June 21, 2022. Preorder now.
Photo courtesy of “The Stories Behind the Poses” by Dr. Rav Balkaran, illustrated by Devika Menon, from Leaping Hare Press.