Awakening to Saraswati: How the Goddess Shows Up in Your Life
One of my first encounters with Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of speech, arts, and music, was the day my teacher spontaneously walked in to observe my teaching. Despite the fact that I had been teaching for years, the moment he entered the room, I lost my composure. Who was I to teach? What did I know? What if I said something wrong? My skin turned fire-engine red, and itchy hives covered my throat. I even nearly lost my voice!
I could hear an inner urge to get up and fight—to courageously teach the class. And somehow, I made it through. Yet that night, I faced my inner saboteur—the coward that held me captive to my doubt, fear, and unworthiness. Turns out, it was the shadow aspect of Saraswati.
Have you ever lacked confidence in yourself, even though you are proficient at what you do? Have you ever turned your power over to another out of fear of being wrong? Have you ever lost your voice or felt as if what you had to say wasn’t heard? This inability to express our creative power is the shadow aspect of Saraswati, a goddess who shows us this shadow side when we fall prey to judgment, criticism, doubt, and fear.
The good news is that through yoga and meditation, we can remember our abilities and find the confidence to speak about what we know and can share more fully with others as a result. With daily meditation, we can overcome tremendous feelings of inadequacy and tap more readily into our inherent gifts and talents.
As my practice deepened, my confidence has soared—and I can tell you firsthand what joyous freedom I’ve experienced as I’ve become better able to express myself. Understanding both the light and shadow sides of the goddess Saraswati has helped me do this.
Who is Saraswati?
This goddess was married to her consort, Brahma, albeit briefly due to her independent nature. Her commitment to meditation and her devotion to the music and arts takes her away from Brahma too many times. In fact, one day, she arrives late to an important ceremony where Brama is being honored, and this time he won’t forgive her and demands a divorce. She isn’t bothered, as she won’t be tied down or forced to be a subservient wife.
Her life is dedicated to accessing deep states of meditation and discerning truth from within. In depictions of Saraswati, her swan, the Hamsa, sips on water and milk and is able to separate milk from water, which metaphorically speaks to knowing our truth. She teaches us to go within and trust in our inherent gifts. This is why it makes sense that her shadow side would have us doubting those gifts and questioning our intuitive powers.
We find Saraswati in rivers, oceans, streams, and lakes—anywhere there is water. In fact, her name means “to flow”—to be in the flow with your creative capacities. She connects us to our artistic gifts; when you see a beautiful dancer, read a wonderful piece of writing, or hear someone speak from the heart and cut right to the beautiful truth. That is Saraswati at work.
When I think of her in great artists, I think of songwriters like John Lennon, great speakers like Martin Luther King Jr., and the work of Vincent Van Gogh and Cezanne. Even better, she is the aspect of consciousness within each of us that holds creative ideas and sparks innovation, and she has everything to do with communication. We could even say that cell phones and social media are aspects of Saraswati’s creative energy in humans to innovate.
Here are some ways you can work with Saraswati in your life:
Daily rituals and practices help us reconnect to our creativity, release doubts and fears, and step more courageously into contributing to life.
Here are a few practices I do daily when I want to call on Saraswati’s energy:
- Spend a day dedicated to watching your speech and being curious about where any negativity that bubbles up from.
- Meander on the way home after work rather than taking your usual, straightforward route, and let your path unfold without an agenda to spark your creativity.
- Download a language program onto your phone and practice a new language—just for the fun of it.
- Pick up a musical instrument.
- Play around on your computer and be in awe of all that it can do.
- Write a letter, poem, or a song, and share it with someone.
- Chant or sing, as this opens up the throat chakra and allows for free form expression.
Backbends, such as shalabhasana (locust) supta virasana (reclined hero’s pose), and ustrasana (camel pose), are potent physical practices that enhance shoulder and throat opening. By practicing these backbends, we activate the throat chakra, which helps energy move through our bodies, allowing for more flow and freedom of expression. Practice these backbends for 40 days and notice how the way you express yourself changes.
- Sit quietly for 5 minutes and simply watch your breath, then ask a question you need clarity around. When the 5 minutes are up, write whatever comes to mind in your journal. This exercise always helps me to tap into my innermost self, which almost always leads to helping me find more clarity about whatever is “up” for me.
- Light a candle, place a picture or statue of Saraswati in front of you, and chant the following mantra using a mala 108 times: Om AIM hreem shreem Saraswati namaha. Chanting helps open us up to the inner domains of consciousness, where our active mind quiets, and we can feel the potency of Saraswati as sound vibration that heals and liberates our ability to express ourselves creatively.
- Begin a mantra meditation practice. Mantras are sound therapy, so when we use mantras, we are tapping into Saraswati’s most subtle form, sound. Sound vibration heals from the inside out, so it can help us feel happier and better able to enjoy our lives.
Lalitha Invites Beauty and Play Through Sugarcane Pose
I’m sure at some point in your yoga journey you have unknowingly experienced Sugarcane Pose. Sugarcane pose’s English translation is rarely used. Instead, it is referred to as Ardha Chandra Chapasana, or just Chapasana. It is a standing backbend version of Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). Ardha means ‘half,’ Chandra means ‘moon,’ Chap means ‘bow,’ and Asana means ‘pose’.
I’m half Filipina and I was lucky to have a father working for the U.S. government who was interested in working in Southeast Asia because he is Filipino, so I lived there until the age of 17. Whether we were in Taipei, Seoul, Manila or Jakarta, there would always be a street stand selling raw sugarcane.
As a result, I grew up gnawing on sugarcane husks, relishing in the flavor of the sugary sweet juice and the texture of the dense, fibrous cane. When I heard the name sugarcane pose and discovered that Lalitha was sometimes referred to as the Sugarcane Goddess, I felt very connected to both the pose and the goddess and wanted to know more.
One translation of Lalitha’s name is ‘she who plays.’ When we invite the essence of Lalitha into our lives, we are inviting spontaneity, playfulness, and joy into our lives. She is a form of Shakti Devi, the auspicious feminine energy relevant to the Universe or Source. She represents beauty, and her depiction conveys that.
Lalitha is usually seen seated on a lotus flower which guides us toward fulfilling our desires. She has long, black, gorgeous hair that smells like flowers, and a slight red tinge to her skin tone.
Her skin color is beautiful and represents the color of the first dawn or the hopefulness of new beginnings, and she is sometimes referred to as the Red Flower Goddess. She has four arms and a crescent moon adorns her forehead. In her hands, she holds a bow of sugarcane, five arrows made of flowers, a farming instrument for rounding up cattle (a goad), and a noose. The goad and noose represent our ability to develop an aversion (goad) to attachment (noose) and eventually find true joy.