Friday, 5 October 2012

Legends of Yoga: The First Guru

Shiva as Nataraja
Tradition says that Shiva is the Adi-Guru or first teacher of Hatha Yoga. 

Wanna hear the story of how yoga first came to human beings?

Shiva's first student was Parvati, the Mother of the World and his beloved consort.  She was saddened by the suffering of human beings.  Out of compassion, Shiva shared these teachings with her.

Some stories say they went to a small island or a remote riverbank or a deserted beach.  Others claim they had a beautiful bubble lair at the bottom of the ocean. 

(Lol!  This always makes me think of Maxwell Smart's "Cone of Silence".)

As Shiva spoke, a fish (Matsya in Sanskrit) overheard.  Shiva turned the fish into a Siddha, or realized being who became known as Matsyendranath or the Lord of the Fishes.

Others say that Matsyendranath was swallowed by a fish when he was just a boy.  The fish happened to be resting near the divine couple as they were discussing the secret wisdom of yoga.  From within the belly of the fish, Matsyendranath overheard.  He practiced what he learned with vigor and determination.  When he escaped from the fish belly twelve years later, became a fully realized master and a liberated soul.

Either way, Matsyendranath became the second teacher of yoga, the one who brought it to humanity.  He is revered by Hindus and Buddhists alike as a Guru in both paramparas, or lineages of yoga.

Ardha matsyendrasana
Ardha Matsyendrasana (Image Source: Yoga Vidya)
As the first human guru was known for meditating in a particular asana, the position became known as Matsyendrasana, or the Seated Spinal Twist, one of the few postures described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Ardha Matsyendrasana, or the Half Spinal Twist is one of the twelve basic postures in a traditional Sivananda yoga class.  It has numerous benefits for the abdominal organs and the spine, and helps to rouse latent spiritual energy.

Some versions claim that Parvati fell asleep and missed the whole teaching.  Perhaps this is a metaphor for the human condition.  The yogis say we spend most of our lives unaware of our own potential and therefore unable to fulfill it. 

Or perhaps it is a reference to Kundalini Shakti, the spiritual force that lies dormant or "asleep" in the Muladhara chakra at the base of the spine waiting to be channeled upward.

However you interpret this mighty fish tale, it highlights the power of yoga to transform.

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