by: Rachel Ploof
One of the things I love about yoga is the possibility to assist others in finding deeper mind body awareness through use of the imagination. So much of our life as adults is geared towards what is “real” or “reasonable” that we lose the childlike nature we all h
ave. The playfulness. It is in that childlike awareness, where every moment exists as itself and nothing can be named, that peace of mind comes from. If we could stay there, in the child mind, we may never, or very rarely experience stress as we now know it.
Through the use of imaginative imagery we cultivate focus and learn to watch in our minds eye, while our body completes the physical aspects of expressing an asana to our fullest. This in turn not only causes us to hone a felt sense for our various tissues and bones, but also to calm the inner dialogue. Eventually we may come to need no visualization, to simply be in the posture. Experiencing the air, noises, and temperature fluctuations around us without naming or identifying them. Witnessing in pure awareness, being purely present in the here and now.
This is application of imagery and imagination is also why I love the allegories and symbology behind the various deities associated with yoga and Hinduism. Ganesh or Ganesha, for example, is my favorite. Just by understanding the symbolism present in his image we can drink in all the various aspects of a wise mind and steady heartfelt action. Witnessing reality from that center of quiet and presence that resides in each of us. I love Ganesha because he represents various aspects of the psyche and how we can tap into our higher selves to overcome the vrittis (fluctuations) of our worldly experience.
Ganesha’s trunk represents discernment, which is necessary to successfully negotiate the path of spirituality. His broken tusk reminds us that sacrifice is necessary for learning and pursuit of wisdom. His small eyes represent the focus, the concentration, and you might even say dedication, needed to sustain and increase moments of enlightenment. His small mouth reminds us to speak less and listen more. In doing so we learn to think before we speak and to do so only when it will be an improvement upon silence. A practice which can help to pacify and quiet the ego while simultaneously allowing you to better understand others. Ganesha’s big ears also remind us to listen attentively. That the things we have going on in our internal dialogue aren’t so critical as our awareness to the things going on in the here and now around us. His large head holds great wisdom, inspiring us to cultivate the same within. His large belly symbolizes his ability to peacefully digest all the good and bad in life. Ganesha is always hanging out with a mouse, usually shown at his feet. The mouse represents desire and the story goes that Ganesha rides the mouse, keeping desires under control. The mouse also represents the ability to get into the smallest corner and openings of the mind. Perhaps if we can learn to ride our desires down to the corner of our mind from which they originate we can then determine if they are truly worthy of our attention.
Ganesha carries various objects to help us on our inward journey in his hands. Various depictions and statues of Ganesha can be found and the position of his body and trunk have their own meanings as well as the objects he carries. The Ganesha in our studio happens to be outfitted just right to help us along our yogic journey. His trunk being bent to his left side is known to be a Ganesha which is in a calm, blissful, and happy mood. A mood I’m willing to wager we would all like to be and stay in. In one right hand he holds his broken tusk, symbolizing his sacrifice and dedication. The tusk became broken because Ganesha was asked to scribe down the epic of Mahabharata. Understanding the enormity and significance of the task, Ganesha realized the inadequacy of any ordinary pen. So he broke his own tusk and made a pen out of it. The lesson being that in the pursuit of knowledge no sacrifice is too big. The mace in his other right hand is indicative of his decisiveness and discipline as he continuously inspires us along to the completion of our spiritual quest. The noose in his left hand is a reminder to stay the course and reign in our wandering minds. To collect our thoughts and overcome our obstacles. In his other left hand he holds modaka, sweet rice balls, symbolic of the rewards of sadhana (spiritual practice), the ultimate sweetness of enlightenment.
Our Ganesha sits in lalitasana, once again representing a calm and relaxed deity. In this posture he keeps one foot on the ground showing his concern for the affairs of the world and willingness to bestow blessings upon us. The other leg bent upon his cushion denotes his semi-meditation state. In this way Ganesha shows that it is possible to walk zen-like in this world while being attentive to the present and those around us. On his foot we see a small lotus blossom symbolizing the ascent of spirit to even greater heights.
Hopefully this little musing has inspired some of you to consider what imagination, imagery, idolatry, and symbolism can do for us on our yogic journey. That you may see beyond the religiosity of these images into the heart of their purpose and guidance along the path to a quiet mind and steadfast heart. Next time you are in need of some inspiration, come back to this post, gaze upon Ganesha, and see what you can remember of his symbolism. Better yet if you are in town come down to the studio and spend some time with him.
namaste – rp