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Spinning a Rama-yarn: the Value of Storytelling in Yoga

What does yoga mean to you?

“When I first started yoga, I was inspired just by the idea of being able to touch my hands to the floor”, confides Daniel Aaron.”But then, I was a fat white guy. After 20 years, I need more than that. Sure, I’m still looking for that next thing I can do, but it’s not enough, on its own, to maintain my interest”.

Maybe the extra ingredient is the story we tell ourselves about our yoga practice. When we weave events into narrative, we make sense of them to ourselves. Stories are the connective tissue of our reality.

“There are systems for getting the body in shape that are better than yoga. If you just want to look good, you may as well do Pilates, or TRX [it’s a ‘total body workout’, apparently]”.

I ponder this for a moment. What is it that keeps me practicing yoga rather than defecting to the gym or the Zumba class? OK, maybe not the Zumba class. I’d say that part of it is the way yoga feels. The more I practice, the more my body seems to move as it’s meant to, with ease and grace. This compares with going to the gym, which – for me – only increased the size and muscularity of a misaligned body.

A yoga class, yesterday. (Photo credit: Ulrike Reinhold)

In the sweltering heat of the main pavilion, Daniel narrates one version of the story of Anjaneya, the boy-god who would become Hanuman, the embodiment of selfless service. Anjaneya, as boy-gods will, believes the sun to be a ripe mango and leaps into the sky to take a bite of it. As a result, he is struck down and punished by being forced to assume the form of a monkey and forget his divine origins.

This initiates a quest that leads to Hanuman’s epic adventures as a key protagonist in the Ramayana. Without wishing to spoil the ending, he eventually comes through those adventures victorious and mature. “In the end, he realises who he is”, booms Daniel. “In the end, we realise who we are”.

It helps that, during the class, we have Nazareno Grisolia, Lisa Anderson Rhodiner, and Heather Bonker, three teachers at Daniel’s Radiantly Alive studio in Ubud, offering us adjustments to aid us in remembering who we are. A timely reminder that every hero requires allies.

“Make a commitment to see the story through”, Daniel encourages. If you’re breathing with us, you’re with us, and so the class is a success.”

When we step onto the yoga mat, we are our own heroes. How do we relate to our fatigue, or to the stiffness in our legs? What do we say to the voice in our head that tells us we can’t do it? We may not literally battle any demon kings (well, you may not, I’ve got a punch-up with an evil, fire-breathing deity scheduled for next Tuesday) but we all face obstacles. Those obstacles are the making of us.

“We are the protagonists”, says Daniel. “We need antagonists. We need all that crap in our lives, otherwise we would never discover how beautiful, perfect, and infinitely strong we are”.

That’s a story strong enough to coax me back onto the mat tomorrow.

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Continue the conversation on Twitter – use #balispirit in your posts on festival highlights, photos and shares.

Written by : Robert Wolf Petersen


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