Imaginative Geography and the Subtle Body

As part of Robert Moses’ reading list for our upcoming yatra, I’ve just started Diana L. Eck’s book, India: A Sacred Geography. I’m not very deep yet, but Eck makes a few excellent points at the beginning I thought I’d pass along.

Eck begins with an argument to shake the reader out of Western notions of geography. She describes a distinction between a geography that is “historical” versus one that is defined by the routes pilgrims have taken on tīrthas, a geography that exists outside of linear space and time.

It is indisputable that an Indian imaginative landscape has been constructed in Hindu mythic and ritual contexts, most significantly in the practice of pilgrimage. The vast body of Hindu mythic and epic literature is not simply literature of devotional interest to the Hindu. […] Hindu mythology is profusely linked to India’s geography […]. It “takes place,” so to speak, in thousands of shrines and in the culturally created mental “map” of Bhārata.

There are a number of mind-blowing things about the idea of an “imaginative geography” here. Eck immediately points out that one of the first things the British East India Company did when they arrived was to send a boatload of cartographers. Leveling all the sacred places in India down to one, linear plane was an act of imperialism.

Namarupa’s sacred geography. Via

But the thing that’s resonating most with me is the idea of India having an “imaginative body.” There is a creation story in the Rg Veda in which all of existence is formed from the body of Purusha—literally: legs, arms, mouth, eyes, all become both physical landmarks (his mind became the moon) and abstract social ideas. It’s a myth familiar to me from both William Blake and Celtic mythology (the island of Ireland, you know, is actually the body of sleeping Finn).

And yes, there’s the connection or parallel to the spiritual body of the practice. I just happened to be flipping through David Swenson’s (essential) Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual this morning, and I came across this:

By bending and twisting the spinal column we are encouraging and maintaining suppleness on a physical level as well as opening energy channels to allow prana to flow freely on the subtle plane.

The subtle plane. The imaginative body. At this level, our connection to our practice takes on an ethical connection to the land itself. Another reason to roll out the mat and do your practice.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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