The Importance of Puranic Literature

This is lesson three of Advanced Hatha.  






OM. May That protect us both, teacher and pupil.  May That cause both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the scriptures.  May our learning be brilliant.  May we never quarrel with each other.  Om, peace, peace, peace.


Blessed Selves,

The First Guru:

Shiva is considered to be the first guru of yoga.  He is the Lord of the Yogis and the Lord of Auspiciousness.  He is often depicted sitting in a meditation posture, holding a trident with snakes around his neck.  The snakes represent the fact that Shiva welcomes all as his devotees, even those whom are considered the outcasts and misfits of society. He is the destructive force in nature that clears out one’s lower nature leaving room for positivity and growth to flourish.

It is said that the system of yoga was revealed to Shiva as he sat in meditation for thousands of years.  Once he awoke from his meditation, he shared the wonders of his realization with his wife Parvati.  As Shiva was relaying all he knew to his beloved, the fish Matsya was swimming by and paused to listen to Shiva’s dialogue.  As Matsya listened, he embodied the teachings and became enlightened at the end of Shiva’s dissertation.

There are many realms to the yoga system.  The predominant path that has filtered to the west is the practice of Hatha yoga.  Hatha yoga is the practice of asana (yoga postures), pranayama (the knowledge and expansion of one’s prana through the practice of breath control), meditation, kriyas (internal and external purification of the body), mudras (gesture) and bandhas (energy locks).  Among these practices, asana is by far the dominant practice in the Western world.

I have read positive reviews of classes or studios being applauded for not being ‘too’ Indian.  We are in America and there is no need for us to adopt Indian dress or décor.  Nor do we need to become a Hindu or a Buddhist to appreciate the wisdom of the yogic teachings.  But to deny the relevance of India and Indian culture in yoga practice is to deny the apples in the apple pie; there is no filling.

The Sanskrit names of the yoga postures are layered with myths and metaphors.  Without the richness of the stories of the gods, goddesses, sages, animals and nature, our yogasana practice becomes calisthenics or stretching.

Each time we hold a posture, we begin to tap into the essence that the posture represents.  For example, Hanuman is the monkey god, devotee to Lord Rama.  Hanuman illustrates humility and devotion.  From constant repetition of Rama’s name (mantra repetition), Hanuman merged with the object of his devotion.

When we begin to practice Hanumanasana, which looks like a western gymnastics split, many of us immediately come face to face with humility.  If our hips, hamstrings and lower back are tight, this posture can be quite challenging.  In the spirit of Hanuman, if we devote ourselves to our practice, the challenging edge we face begins to soften.  We may never make full contact with the floor and we may always need a bolster or a blanket for assistance, but with practice, the outer layers of the asana are peeled away and we begin to merge with the deeper essence of the posture.  The initial humility of the posture, the ego being bruised, transforms into pure humility that enables us to bow down to the infinite potential that is hidden within each and every one of us.

The ancient seers or rishis passed down the knowledge of this hidden potential and the ways to access it in the form of the Vedas (sacred knowledge).  There are four Vedas: the Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda.  These are the most ancient of Vedic scriptures.  These scriptures require a high level of consciousness to understand.  The rishis understood that the less evolved individuals could not understand the scriptures so they began to pass the knowledge of the Vedas down in the form of myths and legends that are known as the Puranas.

We teach our children values and morals through stories in hopes of inspiring them to behave in meaningful ways. The Puranas serve the same purpose for us.  For the analytical mind that is constrained by the senses, intellect and modern science and history, Puranic literature may be difficult to understand.  But if one can expand their intellect, they will begin to see that these stories are revealing deep insight into human nature.

Modern history is linear and does not know where the time line begins or when it will end.  In her book “Sri Shiva Lila,” Vanamali says, “The modern concept of history may have something meaningful to say about the recent past of the Homo sapiens but it can throw no light on our distant past, our future and our significance in cosmic history.  The Puranas on the other hand give the right interpretation of the human being as being made of consciousness, evolving towards higher levels of perfection and having an existence along with other intelligent and conscious beings.  It raises the history of man, from a meaningless episode in the infinity of Time to a meaningful progress from man to God!”

Any success in yoga requires an adjustment in our lifestyle.  We are constantly being bombarded with external stimuli that affect our thoughts and emotions. All of the stimuli that we are exposed to both passively (billboard advertisements, noise pollution etc) and actively (television, music, Internet, book, magazines, movies etc.) is lodged into our subconscious mind and much of what we are feeding ourselves is not healthy.

To counter some of these damaging stimuli, it is important to fill yourself with positive, uplifting and empowering stimuli.  The Puranic literature is an outlet for us to fill ourselves with powerful knowledge in a pleasurable way.  These myths and legends expand the mind, uplift and open the heart and inspire conscious living.


Before you go to bed, read something uplifting or inspiring, even if it is only one sentence. With this practice you are ensuring that the last impression that the subconscious mind receives before sleeping is a positive one.

Suggested Reading:

Light On Yoga ~ B.K.S Iyengar:  Open to any page and read about the translation and story behind the posture.

Myths of the Asanas ~ Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

The Bhagavad Gita ~ there are many translations available.

(The Living Gita ~ Sri Swami Satchidananda is a nice one).

Sri Shiva Lila ~ Vanamali







Lead me from the unreal to the Real

From darkness to light

From mortality to Immortality

OM, peace, peace, peace