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Ganesh's famous balancing act!

Updated: May 19, 2018

Ganesh is the much revered and popular elephant god of the Hindu pantheon. He is the Lord of New Beginnings capable of removing obstacles that get in our way. But he is also known for placing obstacles in our path should we allow our ego to get the better of us and become arrogant or blinded by pride.

His physical appearance is symbolic of many aspects fundamental to success in yoga: his large ears teach us to listen more and speak less, his eyes are small encouraging us to focus and concentrate, his large belly shows us how we need to digest everything life sends our way - good and bad and his vahana (vehicle) is a tiny mouse suggesting that we need to cultivate balance even in somtimes challenging conditions! Ganesh's broken tusk is specifically associated with a number of different myths, one of which involves Chandra the moon.

Now Ganesh is known for his sweet tooth. He is often depicted holding a bowl of sweet treats or prassad. Being the son of Shiva though Ganesh is an accomplished yogi and pretty good at balancing his love for sweet pleasures with a real need for discipline.

One day Ganesh had been indulging his desire and his belly was full to bursting. When it was time to go home he climbed atop his tiny steed and together they set off, Ganesha making full use of his mastery of yoga in order to maintain his balance. Suddenly a snake shot across their path, the terrified mouse ran one way and Ganesh toppled the other crashing to the ground, his belly bursting open and his bountiful belly of sweets spilling everywhere. Ganesh frantically began to gather up the spilled sweets, stuffing them back into his belly and using the snake, that had caused all the trouble in the first place, as a belt around his middle to keep everything secure.

All this time Chandra, the moon, who had been watching the commotion, was laughing his head off. When Ganesh, caught in a moment of unconscious action saw this he was extremely embarrassed. His embarrassment soon turned to anger and he promptly broke off his tusk and hurled it at the moon, cursing Chandra that he would never shine again.

When the tusk hit the moon the light went out and the world was thrown into eternal sunlight. Under the scorching heat of the sun the earth began to wither. With no transition between day and night, softness and subtlety was lost. Dawn and dusk disappeared and with it love too ebbed away. Luckily the Gods intervened; they suggested a compromise, Chandra could shine again but just once a month, and between those times he would wax and wane. Now Ganesh saw this as Chandra being taught a lesson not to find pleasure in other's misfortune but Ganesh also learned a lesson, his broken tusk would remind him of the consequence of losing balance.

Ardha Chandrasana can help us to learn this lesson. A challenging pose which translates as half moon it requires a perfect balance between effort and energy. The front and back body need to be evenly opening and working in harmony - energy is radiating out from the ball of the back foot; the spine is extended; the fingers of the top hand are ignited and whilst all this is happening simultaneously the musculature of the body is firming strongly against the bones creating taught yet resilient alignment. It's a perfect marriage of effort drawing in to stabilise, support and maintain the point of balance. The standing leg and lower arm may appear to ultimately take responsibility for the success or failure of the task but it really is a co-operative event . As the drishti (gaze) rotates towards the sky it senses every single moment as though the mind is suspended in animated stillness and so too the breath itself becomes as quiet and soft as Ganesh's tiny mouse.

Using a block under the lower hand is a good option when you begin practising this pose, as is starting with the back against a wall - this can really helps you to 'feel' the correct alignment needed to create the balance - think of this as Ganesh's blessing - removal of the fall obstacle!

Mastering challenging or tricky poses gives us a sense of accomplishment, a reward for all our disciplined and dedicated effort and but it also enables us to overcome obstacles off the mat as we become more aware of our own inner strengths, what we are truly capabale of achieving and especially our own innate capacity to not only find but to also sustain balance - even when things get difficult.

Bhujasana is known as Ganesh's pose and it's pretty obvious why. The bent leg references the elephant's ear and the straight leg his trunk; the arms become the great strong legs of the pachyderm, deeply connected with the ground they create the strong and stable base that enables the mighty head to rise with grace. Ganesh is the deity assoicated with Muladhara, the root chakra which is related to our sense of security, belonging, our physical sheath and feelings connected with being grounded and safe.

Build up to Bhujangasana slowly and with a sense of curiosity. Developing flexibility in the hips is paramount but the pose also calls for strength in the arms and shoulders as well as the quads, glutes and adductor muscles on the insides of the thighs. Employing uddiyana bandha gives the pose lightness and a felt sense of deep connection with the core which can really help to elevate the sit bones.

The raised leg needs to be as high up the shoulder as possible, then really clamp the arm firmly with the thigh before pressing the earth away through the hands. Firm the shoulders drawing the heads of the arm bones away from the sockets as you simultaneously swing the hips back - this will initiate flight mode. Find stability here first. Then, maybe, get playful and try flowing into Astravakanasana - 8 angle pose.

Enjoy the journey, make sure you smile or preferably laugh like Chandra if you do fail to begin with. If you get tired just rest, then when you're ready have another go and when you get there be sure to make a loud trumpet sound or maybe have this rocking out in the background :)

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