It all began because some snakes got a hankering for a drink.
Well, maybe that’s not how it all began, but that is the story that Vinata told, and I’m sticking to it.
I mean, can you really blame her for making a bargain with some snakes?
Think about it. What would YOU have done?
Oh, I see. You think you would not have made the bargain. You believe you are way to smart to make a bargain with a talking snake. Really? Who would do that?
Okay, I take your point. But think about it. They are talking snakes!
…So, you really can’t make any assumptions about what you would or would not have done, can you?
But I digress….
Vinata was talking to some snakes and they made a deal. Given the fact that they are snakes, maybe she didn’t think this bargain all the way through. Perhaps she didn’t read the fine print. Mercury could have been in retrograde. Who knows? Either way, she lost that bet. (Not surprising. It was the snakes’ idea. They were the ones who wanted to make a deal.)
Her son, Garuda, was not all that pleased with his mother.
He had a very important job, being Lord Vishnu’s vehicle. Not just any eagle could fly Lord Vishnu around all day. Not that Lord Vishnu did much flying, being the sustainer, and all. He seemed to take to lounging about on his serpent-couch all day. (One of the first things Garuda learned on-the-job was not to ask questions. Serpent-couch. Not judging, not judging….) Not that Garuda minded, or anything. Brahma was out creating, Shiva was busy destroying, and they both relied on Lord Vishnu to do nothing! It was very important work for a very important god. And that made Garuda’s job very important as well.
But she did ask nicely… and if Garuda didn’t go save her, who would? So, after securing temporary paid leave from Lord Vishnu -not too hard to accomplish given he was taking a nap- off Garuda went to Patala, the underground city of snakes.
“I’m here for my mother,” Garuda announced. “Giver her back and I will leave you to your peace.”
The snakes looked at each other, and then burst out laughing, which is an incredibly unpleasant sound if you are a snake.
“I gotta betta idea…” the ugliest, meanest, nastiest snake said slyly in his NYC accent, because ugly, mean, nasty comments always sound so much better if you’re from New York. “Let me make you an offer…”
Garuda gulped. Darn Mercury retrograde. But it was his mother? What choice did he have?
An arguable, philosophical question for another day. Garuda digressed.
“Okay, shoot,” he said to the snakes.
“Bring us Amrita and we’ll let your mother go.”
Those were their terms. That is what Garuda agreed to do.
Off Garuda went to the mountain of the gods to retrieve their sacred elixir, which was said to give immortality, but really only enhances and increases their knowledge and power.
Never buy Amrita from Amazon. I swear, its just snake oil. (No pun intended.)
Before Garuda could access the amrita, he had to face three obstacles. (In the future, he would have to make sure his amrita was Prime eligible.) First, there was the ring of fire. Okay, that was easy enough. Garuda extinguished it by swallowing a lake and expectorating the water all over that hot mess. (That pun was intended. Sorry.)
Next, Garuda had to face the door with the spinning spikes. Spinning spikes. Really?
Garuda took a deep breath. He called upon all of his divine powers. His body began to tingle. Garuda disappeared into thin air!
Well, not exactly. Garuda really needed to learn not to buy supplements from Amazon.
Actually, Garuda shrunk. He got really, really small. So small, in fact, that he slipped through the door of spinning spikes.
The former makes for a great story when he’s getting amrita at the bar with his buddies, though.
Finally, Garuda had to face the ugliest, meanest, nastiest of the three obstacles.
“Yeah, me! Who’d you expect?” said the ugly snake, except this time armed with the vilest of poisons!
Great! Thought Garuda. Now what am I going to do? And he began flapping his wings in agitation.
The snake cleared its very long throat. “Um, excuse me?” It coughed. “Hey, buddy, could you not do that?”
“Oh, sorry about that,” Garuda blushed. “Nervous habit.”
The snake sniffled. “No problem. I’m allergic to dust and it makes it really hard for me to breathe.”
“Oh, my bad!” Garuda exclaimed. “Totally didn’t mean to….” Then he had an idea. “Do… this?” and he began flapping his wings.
“Yeah,” coughed the snake. “That. If you wouldn’t mind not doing that…”
“Oh!” Garuda flapped harder. “Of course! I wouldn’t want you to have difficulty breathing, or anything!” Flap, flap, flap.
All of the snakes started to gasp and cough. Garuda only flapped harder. “I mean, that would be so totally rude of me, don’t you think?”
Cough. Gasp. Cough.
“It’d be like tricking some poor old lady into imprisonment and servitude for her remaining years, you know?”
Gasp. Cough. Gasp.
“Who does that? You know what I mean. That is, like, so evil.”
“OKAY!” cried the snakes. “You can have your mother back just STOP FLAPPING!”
Garuda stopped. “Oh, sorry there, bro,” he hid a smirk in that I’m-the-good-guy sort of way. “Like I said, nervous habit.”
Garuda went to find his mother…
…Who was having drinks with the snakes!
“Mom!” Garuda cried as Vinata toasted amrita with a split-tongued serpent.
It turns out that is the effect amrita has on snakes. It splits their tongues. Who knew?
When Garuda got home, he promised himself he would never, ever buy supplements from Amazon again!
Okay, maybe it didn’t happen exactly that way…
But that was what Vinata said.
Garudasana is a twisty, challenging pose. One of the most difficult aspects of this pose is simply getting into it! Like any yoga pose, you will find your own rhythm and way of being in this pose that eventually makes it feel natural. Well, maybe not natural, but certainly accessible!
How to practice Garudasana:
- Begin in Tadasana (Mountain Pose).
- (Inhale) Place hands on hips.
- (Exhale) Bend both knees. Keep torso upright.
- (Inhale) Shift weight over right leg and lift the left foot. Do not straighten the right knee. (Exhale) Cross the left thigh over the right thigh.
- Squeeze thighs together. Try to wrap the left foot around the right calf.
- To add the arms, (inhale and extend arms out to the side at shoulder height) (exhale) bend elbows and cross them in front of the chest with the left elbow on top and the right elbow on bottom. Cross forearms and bring the backs of the hands together, or cross forearms to bring the fingers of the left hand to the palm of the right hand.
- Take five to eight breaths.
- To come out of the pose, (exhale) unwind the arms and legs and return to Tadasana.
- Repeat the pose on the opposite side of the body.
As difficult as Garudasana is when we first learn the pose, you may be wondering if it is worth all the effort! Well, indeed, it is! There are many benefits to practicing Garudasana. Here are a few:
- Garudasana is a balancing pose. Therefore, first and foremost Garudasana helps us practice balancing! If balancing in challenging for you, you may want to build confidence in a more basic balancing pose like Vrksasana (tree pose).
- When we add the arms in Garudasana, we stretch the wrists and shoulders. The hips, ankles, and outer thighs are also stretched.
- Garudasana strengthens the legs.
- Balancing poses, such as Garudasana, can help us improve our focus and concentration.
- As we begin to master Garudasana, we add additional challenges to help us improve our coordination and learn to synchronize our movements. First, incorporate moving with your breath. Breathing instructions are in parenthesis. Then, try to wrap your arms and legs at the same time. (Inhale to extend arms out to the side and bend knees. Exhale to wrap arms and legs.)
Kaivalya, Alanna and Arjuna van der Kooij. Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition. San Rafael. Palace Press International. 2010.
Mehta, Silva, et al. Yoga the Iyengar Way: The new definitive illustrated guide. New York. Alfred A. Knopf. 2010.
Photo by Lars Kuczynski on Unsplash.