Print Print Comment Comment Add to Favorites
Log in to save to My Yoga Journal!
Add to Favorites
Bookmark Bookmark

Intro to Yoga Philosophy: A Wing and a Prayer

Find out why many yoga poses are named after these flying creatures.

By Richard Rosen

Birds are special in Hindu myth. Their ability to fly and enter the realms of heaven makes them ideal messengers of the gods. Hindu gods, unlike Christian angels, are usually wingless, so they often fly through the air on birds. It's no wonder, then, that many yoga poses are named for these creatures. Aside from Pigeon there are Eagle, Peacock, Swan, Crane, Heron, Rooster, and Partridge.

The swan is the vehicle of the creator god Brahma. Her name (hamsa, more accurately rendered as "wild goose") conceals a profound teaching in the powerful mantra, soham, which translates as "This am I."

What does this cryptic mantra mean? It acknowledges the aspiration to merge the individual self (aham in Sanskrit ) with the universal, cosmic Self (so in Sanskrit).

Amazingly, this little mantra sums up the basic message of the Upanishads (the collection of ancient Hindu texts that form the basis of India's most influential philosophy, Vedanta): All the seemingly disparate selves of the world are ultimately only one big Self, which is the essence of everything that exists.

Tradition says that at a certain stage of practicing this mantra, you will experience this oneness and the syllables will naturally reverse to ham sa (the swan). At that point you become the paramahamsa, or supreme swan, who soars where mortals can never go. Meditative attention to your breath, then, can serve as a vehicle for your own deliverance.

practice a swan song

Find a comfortable position, either sitting or lying down, and turn your attention to your breath. Listen carefully for a while. On the inhalation, you'll hear a sibilant sa sound, on the exhalation an aspirate ha.

Spend a few minutes following these sounds. You can arrange and interpret the syllables two ways: as hamsa, where your breath is your bird mount soaring to the heavens, or as soham, where it's a bridge joining the self (jiva-atman) with the Self (parama-atman).

Contributing Editor Richard Rosen is deputy director of the Yoga Research and Education Center in Sebastopol, California, and teaches public classes in Berkeley and Oakland, CA.



Print Print Comment Comment Add to Favorites
Log in to save to My Yoga Journal!
Add to Favorites
Bookmark Bookmark
Full Name
Address 1
Address 2
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email (req):

Reader Comments

Kim

What do you consider swan pose to be?
And rooster?

Erin Fuller

What is partrige pose?

lulu

How do you work breathing with yoga?

See All Comments »      Add a Comment »

Your Name:

Comment:

Stay Connected with Us!

Yoga Journal Live events
sd14 San Diego
Sheraton San Diego
July 10-14, 2014
Register
2014 new york live New York
Hilton New York
April 24-28, 2014
Register

More Events

Join Yoga Journal's Benefits Plus
Liability insurance and benefits to support
teachers and studios.
Learn More
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 4 FREE GIFTS
Your subscription includes
Yoga for Neck & Shoulders • Yoga Remedies
Yoga for Headaches • Calm, Cool, Collected
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Yoga Journal
and my 4 FREE downloadable Yoga Booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions