There is a Hindu myth where Ganesha attends a lavish dinner party hosted by Kubera, the Lord of Wealth. In this story Kubera throws extravagant parties to display his riches. The elephant-headed Ganesha eats the meal and is unsatisfied. Ganesha asks for more, then more and more until Kubera is out of food. Ganesha proceeds to eat the tableware, linens, furniture, and walls. Kubera panics and summons Shiva for help. Shiva satisfies Ganesha with a simple bowl of rice and asks Kubera if he gave the food to impress Ganesha or to selflessly serve him. Kubera truthfully responds he gave the food to flaunt his fortune. Shiva tells Kubera that when we act from ego no one is satisfied. Only when we give with a devoted heart are we, and those we serve, content. Yoga is a practice of uniting mind and body in order to connect to our highest self. Although not always in alignment, the mind and body always influence each other. Often we use our mind to rationalize and cut off the signals we receive from our body. We excuse aches, pains, and illness as something that is happening to us separate from thoughts, experience, and stored emotional trauma. When we prevent the mind/body from aligning, we live in a disjointed state never fully functioning as our optimal self. Disjointed, we are like Kubera unable to give to ourselves, or to others, from a state of pure selfless service.
In yoga classes, we are frequently asked to release attachments to our past. We are asked to let go of regrets, ego, and anxiety caused by our actions and choices. Other than to tune into our breath, we are rarely instructed how to release old traumas. Often breathing in the new and exhaling out the old is not enough. Our ego clings to the past because much of our identity lies in what already has occurred.
Our body stores memories and experiences. Anyone who has moved into a yoga pose and suddenly experienced anger, grief, or joy can attest to this. Recently, in savasana, memories two decades old came back to me. As a college undergraduate I was involved in an unhealthy relationship. I recalled how I allowed my whole being be hijacked by another person. Unable to escape the thoughts, I cringed that I was ever in such a low, dark place.
Throughout the years, thoughts from my college relationship would appear and my habitual reaction was to recoil and stuff them into a closet in my heart. I believed hiding them would help them disappear. In savasana, I let the memories flood in. I felt the shame and humiliation. My skin prickled, got hot, and my breathing grew rapid. I surrendered into the moment. Then the unexpected happened. I saw everything in my life since that relationship: breaking down, getting up, moving on, growing up and growing out. The soul-searching and confusion contributed to my growth. Who I am now is because of who I was then. As I acknowledged this, I witnessed the shame and humiliation disappear. My ego no longer attached to the victim image and I felt lighter…happier. I felt bliss.
For us to grow, to give, to selflessly love, we must remove the obstacles that keep up us divided from our most compassionate and brightest Self. Like Ganesha, we are not satisfied by egotistic tendencies that oftentimes drive our habitual behaviors. There is no one way a teacher can instruct a student to release attachments. This can only be done through one’s readiness to wholeheartedly surrender into body, mind, and spirit.