Mythology is a group of stories that belong to a particular culture and are used to explain nature, customs, and how the world came into existence. Although not a religion, yoga shares a rich tradition of mythology from Buddhism, Tantrism, and Hinduism. Many familiar postures such as Tree pose (Vrksasana), Split pose (Hanumanasana), and Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) have roots in mythology. To view the stories with a personal lens is a way to recognize that these stories are occurring within you, and each character is an aspect of you.
The Warrior poses (Virabhadrasana 1, 2, 3) are standing postures that strengthen the legs and core, help build focus, and prepare the body for backbends. They are named for the great warrior Virabhadra. When we move into the various Warrior poses, we are connecting to the warrior within. We are connecting to the part of us that is strong, compassionate, determined, and confident. We rise from the dirt strong in our bodies, focused in our mind, and centered in our heart.
Virabhadra is a story about love. Sati, the daughter of King Daksha, is utterly in love with Shiva, the god of dissolution. Against her father’s wishes, Sati marries her beloved Shiva. Together, Sati and Shiva live on Mount Kailash. Things are going great until one day, Sati hears that her father is having a yajna, a great sacrifice, and all the gods, except for Shiva, are invited.
Sati is upset about this and decides to confront her father. She goes to his party and stands in front of him, demanding to know why he did not invite Shiva. His reply: “Why? I do not like him. He hangs out in cemeteries, his hair is in dirty dreadlocks, he covers himself with ash, and hangs with unsavory characters.” Daksha ends the conversation with a dismissive gesture. Sati, appalled at her father’s insults toward her husband, enters into a deep meditative trance which builds her inner heat to the point she burst into flames.
“A gust of dust and a deep rumble echoes across the palace halls as Virabhadra rises—his body reaching to the skies, his hair like fire…”
At this moment, Shiva senses his true love has died and falls into a state of grief. From the rage that envelops him, he rips a dreadlock from his scalp and throws it down from the heavens onto the party floor. He summons the great warrior Virabhadra to rise, destroy all he sees, and remove the head of Daksha.
A gust of dust and a deep rumble echoes across the palace halls as Virabhadra (Virabhadrasana 1) rises—his body reaching to the skies, his hair like fire, and weapons in his many hands. With a loud roar, Virabhadra begins to destroy everything. He sets sights on Daksha, draws his sword (Virabhadrasana 2), and beheads him. Virabhadra takes Daksha’s head and places it on a stake (Virabhadrasana 3).
Shiva arrives, looks around at the carnage, and seeing the people hiding in fear, his anger turns to compassion as he realizes what he has done. He re-absorbs Virabhadra into his body and places a goat head on the body of Daksha, summoning him back to life. Happy to be alive, Daksha looks at Shiva with love and reverence. Shiva mourns the loss of his great love and retreats to his mountain where he immerses himself in meditation for thousands of years.
On the surface, this story may seem distant from the life you lead. Yet in mythology, every character is a representation of an aspect of you. When reading this story, you are given tools to unpack and shed light on your own reactive tendencies and fear of the unknown.
The character Sati asks: Have you ever followed your heart despite what other people say? Do you go after your dreams? What limits you from going for your dreams? Is it other people, expectations, and ideals of other people that you are attempting to live up to? In regards to Daksha: What scares you about the unknown? Virabhadra asks: What kind of warrior are you? How do you let your emotions take over? How do you rise up and against limiting beliefs?
Vira means “hero” and bhadra is “blessing” or “friend.” Virabhadra is a hero and a blessing. The ferocious warrior that scares us is the same warrior who saves us. Each myth is a guide into our own psyche. We are almost always directed into the dark places where we hold anger, fear, and insecurities in order to move past them and discover our strength, power, passion, and love. The myths make our shadow side more accessible as we move through the tangled unknown into the place of our light.