What is the connection between pranayama and mythology?
Can it be that stories from the different spiritual traditions are encoded with secret knowledge?
Is there anything in mythology more than 'just' stories? And Does the monkey headed God has any secret to teach us about our own yoga practice?
To answer these questions we need to first look at the roll of mythology in religious life and practices, and explore the connection between mythology and philosophy.
The roll of mythology and philosophy in religions
Any religion is divided into three major sections or limbs
Philosophy is the foundation to all religious and spiritual sects because it describes in the clearest way the most abstract ideas. Ideas about creation, existence and the Supreme Being or God.
philosophy is a refined way to present our ideas but at the same time it is very complicated to communicate, hard to teach and above all – hard to be remembered and transferred to future generations.
So what to do?
Here the roll of worship and mythology comes into to play.
Worship is nothing but philosophy in action
In all types of worship, from all the different traditions of the world we can see symbolic elements that suggest a philosophy behind them. For example: in one of the Hindu worship ceremonies we hold a flower in-between our closed hands in front of our hearts and pray. At the end of the prayer we offer this flower to God. This is a small example of philosophy in action – we are 'doing' what we wish our minds and soul to experience. This is a small example of how an abstract idea manifests in a ceremonial way, in this way much deeper and more subtle levels of philosophy can be transferred as well.
Now, what is mythology?
If worship is philosophy in action so Mythology is philosophy in a symbol
Through stories and images we transfer great philosophical ideas and a range of religious emotions.
How wonderful and how easy it is to remember the picture of the biblical story when God splits the sea for the nation of Israel to go through and sets them free. It is nothing but a philosophical idea for the spiritual aspirant. This small example is the symbolic way to say 'God is always with you, and be sure that when the moment comes, when you cannot see a way of emancipating yourself from your ego after all the spiritual practice you've done, he will come and graciously open the sea of misery for you and let you go through…'
So, what about pranayama?
Since the monthly topic of our 'galaxy of yoga' is 'pranayama', let us try and see, where can we find the teachings of pranayama in mythology and how can they help us in our own understanding and practice?
The first and most lovable example that one can think of in the maze of Hindu mythology is the story of Lord Hanuman – the monkey God.
Let us see, who is Lord Hanuman? And what does Lord Hanuman represent as a mythological character?
The story of Lord Hanuman Is mentioned in the great Hindu epos 'The Mahabharata', where is depicted as the son of Vayu – the God of wind. This is our first clue for what Lord Hanuman represents.
He is immortal and cannot be killed- this is the second clue.
He knows many languages and he is a master poet- another clue.
Above all, Lord Hanuman is known for his power - He is so strong he can move mountains.
When untamed he is destructive…
When tamed he is the best servant of God himself! (a big clue!)
So what is he, this Hanuman?
As we can see, our dear Hanuman is no other then our own prana!
Prana is connected with wind (air-vayu) element - Lord Hanuman is the son of wind.
Prana cannot be killed – this is a very important aspect of prana and one of the characteristics of Lord Hanuman.
Every scientist knows – energy cannot be wasted but only transferred or moved-on, energy In the universe is always in the same amount.
Who moves the mountains? What power controls the stars in their movements and who is responsible for the currents in the sea? And more than that – who pumps our hearts and blows the air in our lungs? The answer for all these questions is prana. Only prana is that strong to move mountains, to move stars and to keep us alive.
The power that Lord Hanuman demonstrates as he moves the mountain in the Mahabharata shows that he is nothing but that prana.
Lord Hanuman is a great poet- only prana can be as big and powerful as the mountain moving power and as delicate as the creative power in poetry.
All the great aspects of prana are present in the story of Lord Hanuman.
Lord Hanuman and pranayama
When untamed he is destructive
When tamed he is the best servant of God himself!
This is the highest understanding of pranayama.
According to the Yogic science, when our prana is imbalanced, our thoughts are scattered, and our breathing pattern is not balanced, it is destructive to the quality of our day-to-day lives and can lead to all kinds of diseases and illnesses.
When Lord Hanuman was born he was so hungry he wanted to eat the Sun because he thought it was a big mango. He therefore jumped with all his might towards the sun but at the last moment, his father, Vayu, saved his life before Lord Hanuman burned himself in the fire of the sun.
So deluded we are by our own imbalances. The story implies that we see food where actually poison rests (one can only think of the fast food industry and the great pranic imbalance that is being produced by it). Food in this context refers to edible food as well as whatever we intake into our system- water, air, television, impressions, meetings with people etc.
When our prana is imbalanced, the faculty of discrimination is lacking and therefore we choose to intake more destructive substances into our system which in turn provokes only more and more imbalances…
But, when the monkey Hanuman is connected to his life mission he becomes the servant of Lord Ram. He becomes the symbol of one-pointed-ness and potential power which are the foundations of pure devotion and accomplishment in yoga.
Hanuman has only one thought in his mind – Ram.
In many pictures of Lord Hanuman we can see him with an open chest, but instead of a heart, Sita and Ram are sited there – that strong is his devotion.
With this kind of devotion he can move mountains and overcome any obstacle that comes in the way of his mission.
When our prana is balanced and we are connected to our mission in life, we will find great power within ourselves.
People who practice pranayama often describe a decrease in the amount of sleep they need, increase of energy and efficiency, a feeling of wellbeing and connectivity with their intuition and with higher levels of awareness.
In the same way, the practice of worshiping of Lord Hanuman, gives tremendous power both physically and spiritually. This power is made available because by worshiping Lord Hanuman we are actually worshiping and invoking our own energy, our own Shakti.
Lord Hanuman is nothing but our own Prana, and Prana is nothing but the aspect of God that gives life and moves everything around us. By inviting Lord Hanuman into our temple, into our yoga practice and into our hearts we are inviting our ability to direct and connect our individual energy with the supreme energy.
Jai Sita Ram Jai Jai Hanuman!