The quest back to the self

This is the fourth week of my Hanuman yoga lessons series. Each week I teach I realise how much I love having the little monkey guy around. I’m not sure how I’m going to let him go in half term. I know he’ll bring a friend along though and they’ll see me through my final series of the year.

Hanuman’s story

His story is told in the Ramayana. A really long saga and therefore, I freely admit I am cherry picking the parts which serve my purpose for these six weeks during the yoga lessons. There is more. There is always more. And he’ll be back.

The yoga in the body

The fourth week is starting to bring everything together in these yoga lessons. By now people will have the key actions I’m teaching in their bodies and be able to apply them throughout the practices. We’ve been working on what’s known as shoulder loop. This principle, I believe came about because of how often people will hunch forward simply because of the way we live our lives. We also need it because we’re so often in fight or flight mode and never have a chance to release the tension created by this.

Additionally, what I’ve been noticing is an increased understanding of this alignment principal. I teach shoulder loop a lot. So much so that I joke that I could make a living from it. If you’ve got it, you’ll notice a number of benefits, not least fewer back problems or less low self-esteem.

That said, it has recently come back to bite me because I noticed how many of my students really have this principal well established in their bodies during their yoga lessons. What happens then is we get to balance it out with another alignment principal: kidney loop. They team up to create a greater subtly and consciousness within our bodies.

With both working in tandem, we’re creating an openness and broadening of the chest for deeper breath at the same time as protecting the lower back and strengthening the abdominals. Two for the price of one can’t be bad, this is pretty refined stuff though. I’m teaching it but expecting it sometimes to wash over for now.

However, it has been very cool to do. I haven’t focused on it for a while so it’s brilliant to exercise and stretch my own skills. And to ask the eternal question: but why?

The essence of the yoga

Additionally, the fourth week is also where we start to really understand the essence and nuance of the overarching theme and how that applies to our own life right now. Full disclosure, I don’t often get the entirety myself until I turn up to teach it in and sit with it in real life.

The hero’s quest

What I noticed when I was contemplating the Ramayana during these past weeks is that Hanuman is called on to make a number of quests, or missions. I’ll come back to the detail of these but first I want to distinguish quest from journey. We’ll often talk about going on a journey, which means going from a place to get to a place. There’s a sense that we’re going somewhere and when we get there it’s all good.

A quest, on the other hand is going from somewhere, doing or getting something and then coming back. Think Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Coming home was as much of a mission as going. Or at least some I’m told.

Bring it to the mat

We represent this mission so clearly when we step on our yoga mats:

  • We start sitting
  • We typically move towards a peak pose
  • We cool down and recover from the peak pose
  • We rest
  • We finish sitting

There is a beautiful circularity to it and reminds me of a quote I use a lot (I usually go with the first four lines but put in the whole thing here):

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

Through the unknown, remembered gate

When the last of earth left to discover

Is that which was the beginning;

At the source of the longest river

The voice of the hidden waterfall

And the children in the apple-tree

Not known, because not looked for

But heard, half-heard, in the stillness

Between two waves of the sea.

– T.S. Eliot

… and know the place for the first time.

Back to the self

Because the truth is we don’t have to get anywhere. We’re only ever being called back to the Self. Yes, we’re distracting by shiny things and baubles – me more than most. But really the one thing we’re seeking is always there. It just requires discovery.

Hanuman is asked to collect herbs from the Himalayas for Ram’s sick brother. He gets there and doesn’t know which herbs they are so brings back the whole mountain. Such is his devotion and commitment to Ram.

Later he’s asked to rescue Sita from Lanka and has to fly across the ocean to get her. Is met with the demon king, burns down the castle and puts it out with his tail. Then he has to get home.

Both of these are a lot. A lot is asked of Hanuman. A lot is asked of us.

Think of all the challenges right now. We’re usually dealing with more than one. All the hats we wear and the roles we play are symbolic.

When we show up on our mats and act out a mini mission each time we perform again and again this act of coming home. That way, when we are despondent and Hanuman certainly gets despondent – so it’s no shame at all – we know how to rise up. We know how to leap across our own personal ocean and land like a feather on the other side. We know how to gather up what we came for and protect it and make our way safely home.

Our next quest starts after half term!