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A Little Culture With Your Yoga?

Posted Oct 07 2008 6:10pm

When I first began practicing yoga, I was all about asana. I didn't care to study the lineage from which my asana came nor did I care to hear stories about Hindu Gods/Goddesses. Nope -- I was straight up asana girl. As time went by my interest in the culture from where my beloved yoga came from began to grow. And I started to read. And learn.

Did you know that tonight officially concludes the Hindu Goddess festival? Navaratri is a nine night festival that celebrates the power of the Goddess. Interested in reading more? Click here.

Did you know that a few weeks from now one of the biggest festivals of Hindus -- Diwali -- will be celebrated by the glow of thousands of candles and the explosion of fireworks? You can learn more about the traditions behind this celebration here.

Paranic Encyclopaedia The Indian culture is rife with tradition and fascinating stories. It's rare that you'd learn about these traditions or stories in a yoga class. Some folks are put-off by learning about the culture because it seems as though yoga is linked to religion. Not so. It's simply learning more about the culture that gave us yoga. If you have a hankering to learn more about symbolism and the epics in Indian culture, you might want to check out the mega volume that includes the majority of Hindu texts, The Puranic Encyclopaedia. For a preview of the depth you'll find in this tome, click here.

I know. I know. You might be wondering, who cares? I had a similar feeling years ago. Now I delight when learning about yoga concepts and teachings through myth and story. After all, that's how they teach in India -- through stories.

If learning more about Indian culture isn't your thing, how about diving deeper into asana and the hidden language behind the poses? One of my favorite books is Swami Sivananda Radha's Hatha Yoga: The Hidden Language, Symbols, Secrets & Metaphors. This book is simple yet powerful, with full explanations of postures as symbolic gestures that create a specific effect on the mind, the psyche and the spiritual self. It covers 22 of the most common asanas and guides the practitioner to uncover their meaning. While the book does cover the physical benefits of each posture, the deeper examination of the emotional and spiritual effects that each posture has is the gold in this book. Radha divides the postures up into unique categories: Structures; Tools; Plants; Fish, Reptiles, Insects; Bird; Animals; Shavasana.

Why make a study out of going deeper into the world of yoga? Radha puts it best in the introduction to her book:

The symbolic meaning of the name from the myths and traditions of different countries helps to bring an understanding of the universality of the symbol and, by exploring less familiar interpretations, it is possible to broaden the limits of our own understanding.

The next time you shy away from learning more about the culture behind yoga, remember these words. A little reading and investigation into the culture, the myths, and the history from whence yoga came can deepen your practice and your yoga experience.


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