The Legend of Garuda; Half-Man, Half-Bird
Chances are, if you’ve ever found yourself on your yoga mat, you may have experienced Garudasana, or Eagle Pose. Many are unaware of the origins of the yoga pose, or the story behind the legendary Garuda. I love Garuda because I went to high school in Jakarta, Indonesia, and the main airline in those days was called Garuda Airlines. I also remember seeing many statues of Vishnu in Bali riding on top of his trusty friend, Garuda. I soon became infatuated with the stories of Garuda and what he exemplifies for us as yogis.
Garuda, half-man/half-eagle, was the vehicle for Vishnu. Vishnu is known in Hindu mythology as “The Protector” or “The Sustainer” and is one of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity consists of Brahma (Beginnings), Vishnu (Middles), and Shiva (Endings). The beginnings, middles, and endings represent the eternal ebb and flow of all of our experiences. We soon learn they are the only constant in an ever-changing world. Vishnu as The Sustainer is much like our breath that sustains our life. He is also the love that sustains our souls.
Garuda was known for his propensity for eating poisonous serpents. The full yoga posture binds the arms and legs around one another and provides compression. Once any compression posture is released, we generally experience a fresh new outlook and energetic exchange. Garuda loved to eat poisonous serpents for his meals. His body knew how to transform the serpents into nutrition in order to feed, sustain, and nourish himself.
When Garuda was first born he was massive. The egg he hatched from was enormous, and his wingspan was unlike anything any deity had ever seen before. The other deities were very intimidated by his size and knew he would grow even larger over the year, so they huddled together and came up with a plan. They asked Garuda to make himself smaller. Because Garuda was new to the community, he acquiesced. Being a newborn, he didn’t want to offend anyone. He also wasn’t so proficient at standing up for himself yet. But he did realize that even though his frame was smaller, he still had a bigness of spirit. He promised himself he would always let his spirit shine as big as he could.
Once when Garuda was young, he received a message his mother had been kidnapped and was being held hostage by evil forces. The note claimed the only thing that would save his mother, and return her safely to his home, was the nectar of the gods, or Amrita. Garuda knew the nectar was located on top of a big mountain in the vicinity, and also heard rumors of a few challenging obstacles to overcome that were placed specifically along the route to help protect the nectar from thieves.
The first obstacle he came across was a passageway he needed to fly through. But the passageway was filled with spinning and swirling sharp knives. He paused mid-flight, assessed the situation, and came to a quick and effective conclusion. He realized he needed to be adaptable, so he momentarily shrunk himself into a small speck in order to fly through the tiny hole in the middle of all the spinning knives without getting harmed. Grateful that he was used to shape-shifting from the moment he was born, he easily passed through.
Onward and upward he flew, and around the corner, he encountered the second obstacle; a second passageway came into view, highlighted because it was filled with searingly hot flames. The flames were dancing and frolicking and impeding any ability for Garuda to get through the middle. Garuda started sweating, and frantically looked around. He saw a nearby river gurgling and ebbing and flowing. Suddenly he had an idea—he turned himself back into a gigantic bird, filled his mouth with as much water as he could manage, and sprayed the flames. He was able to spit enough water over the flames, momentarily dousing them. This allowed him to fly through, conquering obstacle number two.
For some moments, the serpents were blinded by the chaos Garuda’s wings caused. Once their eyes closed, they forgot to spit venom. Garuda saw his chance and flew past them to retrieve the nectar and eventually save his mother.
In diminishing himself in size, Garuda reminds us that no matter how small we make ourselves, no matter how much we constrict and bind our body, we still have inside of us a bigness of spirit. Many of us deal with injuries, anatomical issues, and muscles that are tight. But Garuda teaches us that no matter how limited we may physically feel, we must find ways to shine our light and to practice being unapologetically true to who we really are. Our potential is boundless just like our spirit energy.
Garuda also exemplifies how to be flexible in body, mind, and spirit. He knows how to stay disciplined and focus on the task at hand. He knows how to remain open to learning how to adjust and shapeshift himself for what is being required of him. It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga scene and wish we had that perfect posture or the perfect body to perform the posture, but the true yoga practitioner learns how to work with what they have. And as we learn to love ourselves more and accept ourselves in bigger and better ways, we begin to spread our wings and fly.
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.