When most people in the Western world think of yoga, we think of Hatha Yoga (poses) and we equate yoga with our desire to become more physically fit and a little more relaxed. It is true that Hatha Yoga can help you become physically stronger and more flexible, and some people walk away feeling more relaxed as long as their ego does not get in the way. When a yoga instructor asks them to balance on their hands or stand on their heads for long periods of time, it may cause stress and feelings of inadequacy, or it may trigger behavior like aggression and competitiveness. If this happens, neither fitness nor relaxation will be achieved, and the student’s yoga practice will end up being another fitness fad in their life, like a Bowflex Home Gym that is used as a coat rack in the corner of the family room. The truth is that yoga is much deeper than our physical body and our superficial feelings of self-gratification.
When practiced with a higher intention and humility, yoga has the ability to unveil hidden strengths and flexibility that are usually hidden from ourselves.
Hanuman, the great hero of the Ramayana, is a fascinating character. As a young monkey he sees himself as “just another monkey,” nothing special, just monkeying around like all the other monkeys. Through his friendship with Lord Ram, an avatar of Vishnu (God), Hanuman’s true nature is revealed: he discovers he is strong, loyal, kind, and most of all devoted. Though having the form of a monkey, he becomes the greatest sadhu, yogi, and devotee of all times, someone whom other inspiring yogis look up to and try to emulate. Hanuman’s admirable qualities become the gold standard in yogic lore.
In an Indian folktale that takes place after the Ramayan is over, Hanuman comes to visit his mother, Anjana. He has not seen her in many years, and he tells her of his great adventure with Lord Ram and of his devotion to him. He tells his mother about their quest to rescue Ram’s kidnapped wife, Sita, from the tyrant demon king Ravana in the land of Lanka. Anjana is amazed when her son tells her how he and the other animals built a great bridge that went from the tip of India to the island of Lanka so Ram’s army of monkeys could cross and defeat Ravana. As Hanuman told the story, Anjana hung on to each word and detail of the story, but after Hanuman finished his tale his mother asked him why they went through all the epic drama of the animals building a bridge and Ram’s killing of Ravana to save his wife Sita. She added, “Hanuman, you are so powerful. You could have just lashed your tail and in a single sweep gotten rid of the demon and saved Sita without all the trouble and work.” A mother always knows the strength of her own child. “So why didn’t you just do that, my son?”
Hanuman meekly replied, “Because no one asked me to. Besides, it was Ram’s story, not mine.”
At that moment Anjana saw both strength and flexibility within her son that she had been unaware of. Through the power of devotion he was able to bend the will of his ego to that of the Divine.
This folktale draws attention to four major points. One, Hanuman complies with Ram’s story. Two, in what must have been a stressful situation, Hanuman’s mind stays calm and focused on service to Ram. Three, Hanuman’s humility shows his great flexibility. And four, Hanuman’s love and devotion to Lord Ram are demonstrated by his willingness to show vulnerability, a great strength.
Hanuman is called the greatest of all Bhakti yogis; he is also the greatest of all Karma yogis, Jnana yogis, and Raja yogis. His true strength and flexibility are the profound depths of his yoga Sadhana.
Yoga Sadhana is the key to unlocking the door that allows us to come in contact with the hidden powers within us: powers of compassion, humility, love, devotion, and friendship. Yoga helps us reveal boundless vitality, invincible will power, concentration of mind, selflessness, and the ability to understand and unite with the Divine. By unlocking these powers, we become Hanuman, a great yoga sadhu, renouncing our ego to Higher Self.
Each one of us has the same powers within us as Hanuman. Surrendering the ego is the motivating force that encompasses strength, flexibility, and unlimited internal powers. But we can only recognize this when we become aware of our true purpose. When we focus on Hanuman in our yoga practice, Hanuman is Ram’s Divine power working within us. He is the strength of our innermost Self and its flexibility of devotion through unconditional love. It is Hanuman alone who can discover Sita Devi. Sita represents Self-knowledge of Atma Vidya, through which the individual soul, the jiva atman, unites with the Universal soul, Param Atman. This union is yoga.
But like the unrealized Hanuman, most of us think of ourselves as “just another monkey,” hoping to be a bit more physically fit and a little more relaxed. That is why we are willing to place such a low bar on yoga. We do not believe that the great transformation of Self-realization can occur within us, allowing us to become great sadhus, yogis, and devotees with a higher intention and purpose.
When we open ourselves up to the unlimited transformative power of yoga, we discover just how strong and flexible we truly are, and that Hanuman, Ram, and Sita live within our hearts.
Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu