Symbolism in Yoga Practice - Now and Then - Yoga Practice Blog

Symbolism in Yoga Practice

symbolism in yoga practiceBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

How does symbolism play a part in Yoga? According to principles of Hinduism, an image or a symbol, is a device for harnessing the eye and mind on God. Sometimes, derided as a religion of 330 million gods, Hinduism uses metaphor and symbolism to explore the vastness that is its spiritual life. No wonder, then, that symbolism also plays a rich role in Yoga.

We know that asanas have names, both in Sanskrit and in English. The names are sometimes fanciful, sometimes descriptive.  However, they have another meaning, as well: a symbolic meaning. Asanas are named in groups, such as plants, birds, animals, or structures. To look for a pose’s symbolic meaning, start with its name.

Take, for example, Tadasana or Mountain pose. What is the meaning of a mountain in your current culture, and how does it differ from the meaning for a swami 200 years ago? When you stand in Mountain pose, you have struggled to ascend, and you stand, proud, and unchanging like the mountain.

Cobra pose, or Bhujangasana, reflects the dual nature of the snake, representing both death and rebirth. The snake sheds its skin and can transform itself; and it was Indian masters who discovered that snake venom can also be used for healing.

Dhanurasana, or Bow pose, can be considered to need both strength and sensitivity, like the drawing of a bow. Ramachandra, destroyer of the wicked in Hindu mythology, carries a bow. In Western mythology, Cupid uses his bow to make two people fall in love. The bow bends, but does not break; instead, it can let fly with vengeance or with love. All of this symbolism can be meditated upon in the course of practice or contemplated during the course of a day.  Considering what obstacles lie before you as a Yoga practitioner, you learn that you can balance tension, surrender, or release judgment.  One might say, “the truth may fly like an arrow.”

Understanding asanas, as having a value beyond exercise, and their appellations as having a value beyond convenience and labeling, is a step toward bringing deeper spirituality to your Yoga practice. There is no “right answer” about what a pose means. It can have varying significance for the same person, at different times. Recording your revelations in different Yoga poses is an excellent way to chart the insights that your practice is giving you, and can provide a “road map” for you to point the way to where further study is needed.

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