Archtypes & Mythology: Overview

By Mark Stephens on Mon, 02/11/2013 - 15:52


The verbal root as in asana includes the idea of ritual, a set of actions with symbolic significance that we can tie into practice to highlight certain areas of personal, emotional, spiritual, social, and ecological experience. When teaching yoga, you can accentuate these ties by emphasizing the symbolism expressed in different parts of the practice. One source of symbolism is the vast realm of mythological figures found across the world’s diverse cultural landscapes. Whether we interpret myth as allegory and a “medium for or a flawed version of an immutable, eternal reality created by or for unsophisticated minds” or as “an essential function of the mind (conscious or unconscious) to express repressed needs and desires or to make sense out of life and resolve all conflicts therein,” as Devdutt Pattanaik (2003, 161–162) contrasts, we can find within them profound wisdom about the conditions and circumstances of life and consciousness.

Indian mythology is especially rich in tales, symbols, and rituals that are a reaction to and a communication of humans’ understanding of nature and being. Part of the beauty of Indian mythology is that is it alive and evolving with new interpretations that relate to the quests of whoever delves into its seemingly endless stories. Many asanas are named for figures in these stories, offering a variety of metaphors that relate to daily life and yoga. The aim of Indian spiritual philosophy and mythology is to learn the secret of entanglement and dissolve the mental and emotional cobwebs that envelop our conscious being. Indian mythology offers abundant symbols found in the natural world that represent aspects of human life and experience: light and dark, mountains and rivers, trees and animals, wind and stars.

Read on for some of the ways that, as a teacher, you can tap into this mythological tradition, much of it found in the Ramayana and Mahabharata, making the practice more one of conscious awareness and self-transformation.