Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Ramaswami's December 2010 newsletter; Standing postures and the Story of Durvasana

Warm Greetings from bright and sunny Chennai, Madras that was. It is
almost the fag end of the monsoon season here, a three month period
when the Northeast monsoon is very active and brings copious rains to
the south eastern part of India. It has been a vigorous monsoon this
year I hear. The reservoirs, village tanks and millions of wells are
quite full., In the city of Chennai, during the last few years,'rain
harvesting' has been resorted to to recharge the underground waters.
Most of the households, and buildings with a terrace, direct the
rainwater to deep holes (about 20 feet) filled with small rocks and
sand and rain water quickly drains into these and helps to raise the
underground waster level. Due to the city being with roads asphalted
and pathways concreted, the rainwater has less chance to seep through
and hence this rainwater harvesting has been found to be quite
helpful. In my own house now the well water is hardly three feet
below the ground level. Of course it will quickly recede when the rain
stops and the early summer starts. But still this is good for the
city's water supply position during the long hot summer months.

Thanks to the kind efforts of our friend Jyoti Chittur, I will be
doing a 5 day 20 hour full yoga sutra program at Long Island
University in New York. I am also likely to teach for the Teacher
Trainees at Ananda Asram in New York State. I hope to be able to do a
couple of other programs outside of USA during 2011.

Standing pose sequences
(I've added some links to sequences mentioned in Ramaswami's newsletter : Grimmly)

In Vinyasa krama yoga practice there are three major standing
sequences. Each one has its own charm and challenges. The tadasana
sequence is very comprehensive routine, working on the major joints
and muscles. There is a certain nicety about the sequence involving
simple to involved vinyasas and asanas. According to my Guru this
sequence helps to align the chakras in the body and is perhaps the
best sequence to start one's practice and it helps to first normalize
the body. The various arm movements actually help to open up the
chest. The trikonasana series with such asanas as Trikonasana,
Virabhadrasana etc affords using the major joints and muscles in a
very powerful and graceful manner. Prasiratapadottanasana and
samakonasana may be considered as extensions of this sequence.

I have written earlier about the poses requiring balancing on one leg,
which may be termed as Tapas poses. This sequence requires
considerable focus or ekagrata while practicing and does help to bring
a sense of balance not only to the body but also the mind. There are
quite a few poses and vinyasas and some of them are quite challenging.
It helps to develop attention and patience.

For more details please refer to my book “The Complete Book of Vinyasa

Story of Durvasa:

Siva means auspiciousness, peace. But one aspect of Siva is Rudra,
which name indicates extreme anger, rage. It is said that Sakti once
told Siva that it was getting impossible to live with Him because of
His anger and short tempered nature. Siva took the cue and shed a part
of his anger and created a sage called Durvasa, the name Durvasa
itslef would indicate one who is impossible to live with dus meaning
difficult vaasa meaning to live. In fact it is common to refer to
those who are short tempered as Durvasa. You often find a daughter, a
wife or a son or a subordinate showing great reluctance to deal with
'that durvasa'. But being Siva's amsa or aspect, he was a great
tapasvin and was revered for his knowledge and because of his short
tempered nature many would not come near him as they were afraid of
his nature and his curses which because of his tapas could come to
pass. At the same time if ever he would be pleased he would confer
unprecedented boons.

King Ambarisha was a great king, highly venerated and a great devotee
of Lord Vishnu. He faithfully followed the religious observances and
rituals which he did with great devotion and sincerity with his
wonderful wife. A just king he was revered by his subjects. He was
also very charitable by nature. He regularly observed fasting on every
Ekadasi and on the next day as per the religious practice would
take an early meal on the following dwadasi (12th day after moon days)
day. He would piously follow the procedures faithfully including vedic
chanting like the Taittiriya Upanishad. Once he and his wife after a
day of ekadasi fasting were about to break the fast the following
morning when sage Durvasa came with a large number of his disciples
and landed at the doorsteps of King Ambarisha's palace. He grandly
announced that he and his wards would be the athitis (guests without
notice or invitation). The King immediately fell at his feet and said
that he was honoured to have him and his men as guests on such an
auspicious day as dwadasi. The sage said that he would go to the
river, have his bath and come back for meals.

Once in the river he and his men took an enormous time to complete
their ritualistic bath. In the meantime the King was waiting for his
guests, but it is stipulated that one should have the meals on Dwadasi
day very early, it being the day after a day of complete fasting.
After a while the priests of the palace—including sage Vasishta-- said
that the sastras demand that he should not delay having the meal but
the King said that with the guests expected to come, one should not
have a meal without the guests. Either way he would be violating some
dharma or the other the priests opined and suggested to the King that
instead of a regular meal he could just take a basil leaf and break
the fast and it could be construed also as not having a meal. This via
media suggestion finally appealed to the reluctant Ambarisha. So he
took one small basil leaf and put it into his mouth with a spoonful of
water and just then Durvasa made a dramatic entry. He shouted at the
king and said that he had insulted a great sage and would have to bear
the brunt of his curse. Durvasa, using his enormour tapas power,
created a demon to destroy the King for insulting him. The pious King
with the head bowed prayed to Lord Vishnu for guidance. The Lord
immediately sent His weapon the chakra, called Sudharsana chakra or
wheel which came whirling and instantly destroyed the demon and
quickly went after the sage. It is said that the Lord may sometimes
tolerate any disrespect to Him but never any insult or harm done to
His devotees. So the chakra went after the sage and the sage started
running for his life. He first went to brahma the creator and one of
the trinities., but he politely said that he has no powers to go
against the just actions of the Lord. Then the sage ran to Siva and he
also said something very similar, but advised him to go to Lord Vishnu
whose weapon was threatening him So finally after almost a year
running helter and skelter, the sage finally fell at the feet of Lord
Vishnu and prayed for forgiveness. The Lord then said that the only
person who could save him was King Ambarisha with whom he had behaved
very badly, The sage came running to Ambarisha's palace. As Durvasa
was about to fall at the feet of the king, the king bowed to him
instead in great reverence and directed the Sudarsana chakra to return
to Lord Vishnu without causing any harm to the great sage. Then the
sage granted extraordinary boons to the king and left chastened.

A similar story about Durvasa appears in the epic Mahabharata. The
Pandavas were in the forest incognito as per the conditions of their
exile. The Pandavas with their mother Kunti were hiding in the forest
for a year. They prayed to lord Krishna for food as they were not
wanting to be seen openly in the forest looking for food. The Lord
gave them a vessel which had the ability to give one meal a day for
the family. Kunti used to feed her sons, the Pandavas everyday with
the limited food from the vessel. The cooking vessel would be washed
with water and thereafter they could get food only on the following
day. So the Pandavas like yogis were eating once a day.

It is said that sage Durvasa wanted to create problems for the
Pandavas. So one day he came to their place after they had had their
lunch from the magic vessel. Then it was washed and kept aside to be
used only the following day. In the olden days, any stranger asking
for food should be provided with food. It is considered a sin not to
give food. So the sage with his army of followers descended on the
hide out of the Pandavas and asked them to keep the lunch and they
would return after bath in the nearby river. There was no way they
could get food because the vessel would not give food once it is
washed and kept aside. So Kunti prayed to Lord Krishna to save them
from the predicament and the wrath of the short tempered sage. The
Lord appeared before them and took the vessel and found a minute
particle of spinach sticking to the cleaned vessel. Smilingly, he took
it in his finger and put it his mouth with mouthful of water. As he
swallowed the piece of spinach, Durvasa and his army who were taking a
river bath, suddenly felt that their stomachs were full and started
bloating. They felt as though they had eaten a sumptuous meal and had
no space for even a morsel of food. They decided discretion was
better than going for a lunch, and teaching a lesson for which they
did not have the stomach. They quickly disappeared into thin air
giving a sigh a of relief to the Pandavas who praised the Lord for His
divine help.

Of course there are a few episodes that show Durvasa in a better
light. But Durvasasana is an exquisite pose though a difficult one.
Another one legged pose that is awesome in the one leg up pose called
Trivikrama. This truly is a majestic pose. Trivikrama is actually an
avatar (incarnation) of Lord Vishnu and story of the avatar of Vishnu
as Trivikrama is very absorbing. A few temples in South India have the
icon of Lord Trivikrama. It is also one of the 12 names of the Lord
used in daily prayers.

With best Wishes

Srivatsa Ramaswami

NB. The picture above is of Chris and I on Ramaswami's Vinyasa Krama Summer TT course. Chris has his own blog, here. Grimmly

In Ramaswami's book 'The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga' , the pose Durvasana comes up in the 'On one leg' sequence. Grimmly

The hyperlinks that direct you to sequences mentioned in the letter were added by me, not Ramaswami. Grimmly

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