The Sleeper on the Waters and Savasana

The Ashtanga class I teach at Jorgen’s shala is made for beginners. I keep it as light as possible, so as not to freak them out, and I sneak in the sutras almost subliminally–I might discourage, for instance, excessive effort in order to bind in marichyasana A in favor of sukham. This is the way I was taught, by smart and sneaky teachers. Eventually, when the ground is thirsty, it starts to seep in.

But at the end of last night’s class, I was the thirsty one. As I call the final vinyasa and  my students stretch out for sweatypileasana, I’ll often say,  “The hardest pose: savasana.” True, I think.

As I watched them rest, it brought to mind an image Steve and I saw at the Norton-Simon Museum over the weekend. It’s an image of Vishnu as Hiranyagarbha, reclining in sleep over water. A lotus stem emerges from His navel, and from the lotus bloom comes Brahma, who will create the world.

Vishnu as the Sleeper on the Waters at the Norton-Simon in Pasadena

I admit I’ve never quite understood this story—understood it, that is, in the basic way creation stories seem to make a kind of metaphorical sense when one is firmly rooted in Western ideas of creation. It seems so…sourceless, passive, and more symbolically complex than I’m used to: “And God said, ‘Let there be light.'” Voila. Light. But, watching my students rest, something like understanding stirred.

This what Diana L. Eck says about the three main components of the image: Hiranyagarbha (garbhapindasana!), the waters, and the lotus:

‘Creation’ in this Hindu view of things is designated by the word srishthi, literally ‘pouring forth’ of the universe from the source. As a complex plant or tree grows, bursting forth and developing from the simple unitary seed, or as a complex creature emerges and grows from an embryo, so is this whole and diverse universe poured forth from the Hiranyagarbha, from Purusha, or from the very body of the divine. There is no God who stands apart from it and creates it.

This is something like what I understood, watching my students take rest. Eck writes, “One could say that everything is a manifestation that has poured forth from the living body of the Whole, what some would call God.”

Much of what I’m learning through our study of India often comes down to apprehending the divine, but this idea of completeness is radically expansive to me–as a teacher, and as a poet. We’ve been taught from the very beginning that the ten minutes of rest at the end of practice is crucial. Watching students rest, it seems, can be equally crucial. The rest is muddy water that allows the lotus of the practice to grow. It’s where our real understanding of yoga begins, that moment of potential when we can rise complete. I watched, but did not feel apart from it, and was able, in a small way and for a few moments, to understand.

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

3 thoughts on “The Sleeper on the Waters and Savasana”

  1. This is really lovely, and as a writer and a new yoga teacher, I find the world through your eyes illuminating. Thank you for your thoughtful sharing.

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