My son had some trouble this morning deciding who to be for the school Halloween party. He contemplated the Target-bought Snow Trooper costume and also a homemade Yoda outfit with green felt ears. He wanted to be Darth Vader for a few moments, but he couldn’t find anything that would serve as a helmet. In the end he decided on his trusty Policeman uniform – which is his favorite persona – he often puts it on when he gets home from school and then rides his bike around threatening the neighbors with tickets.
“The police uniform is my favorite one mom,” he said. “Because I can bring my flashlight and billyclub and handcuffs and tickets, too.” Snow Trooper was a close second but lost because the school does not approve of galactic laser guns.
Ah, Halloween. What a great time for projection.
Children love, and are generally not ashamed, to pull their hopes, fears and desires out of their psyches and play them out, see what they feel like, integrate them back into the personalities they are developing.
The gore-fest that Halloween has become in recent years is a troubling display of cultural psychic damage. But at least it is played out. As my psychologist friend likes to say about violent movies, “At least those people are just watching them and not acting on them!” Well, most people, but there are studies linking violent video games with violent behavior.
Violent play is a developmental stage of the second chakra. Deep down in the dark waters of the second chakra lurks a horrifying crocodile-monster waiting for the perfect opportunity to attack! If you make friends with him you integrate the shadow, the dark side of yourself. If you don’t, he stays out there ready to terrify you at any turn with your darkest urges and desires. A fascination with horror films and gorey Halloween costumes are glaring examples of second chakra imbalance – appropriate if you are a developing 5 year old boy – disconcerting if you are a grown up.
So as the energy around the annual celebration of archetypes starts to rev up and I see people walking around in costumes and wigs, I feel inspired to write about the archetypal aspects of yoga poses – which could be thought of as kind of costumes to put on in order to create different feelings and experiences.
The Hero is one of Carl Jung’s dominant archetypes and I think the warrior poses help us to embody this energy. We have four different warriors (if you include reverse warrior) – four distinct ways to experience that energy. When I do warrior poses I experience the activation of the archetypal warrior within.
Virasana is the pose that’s actually called “Hero.” But this pose, rather than being active, activates the energy of deep self control and introspection – qualities a true warrior must cultivate.
The Sage is another important archetype recognized by Jung. And there are so many sage poses in yoga – Matsyendrasana, Bharadvaja, Vishvamitra, Vashishta, Koundinya, Ashtabakra – just to name a few. In the sage poses I’m reminded of the great spiritual thinkers and teachers who gave these poses – or for whom these poses were named. Here’s an interesting article by Richard Rosen on Asana Names and Hindu Gods and Sages.
Ashtabakra for example overcame a severe scoliotic deformity to become a great tantric master. The pose requires strength, flexibility and the willingness to step out of your comfort zone.
Vashishta was a traveler. He carried great secrets back and forth across the mountains from the Indian and Chinese masters. Vashishta’sana is a pose that celebrates movement and the exhilaration of overcoming of tremendous obstacles.
(probably not the best place to try this one out)
Matsyendra was the founder of Hatha yoga and Matsyendra’sana was one of the first poses ever written down – it’s in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. It’s a pose that creates spiralic waves of prana which fortify the ida and pingala – the subtle energy streams that helix up our core, preparing the way for the kundalini. Matsyendra developed the asanas of Hatha Yoga to pave the way for the ascension of the spiritual energy – his pose, a harmonious song to the spine, is one of the most important ones for yogis seeking enlightment.
When our bodies assume the shapes of these poses we try on their energy. It’s like my son trying on different costumes. Different asanas call up different vibrations, different universal, archetypal energies within us. I also believe that the asanas are encoded, much like mantras, with the vibration of the teacher who gives them.
And that means everyone who had their hand in passing on that asana from your fresh-faced teacher down the street, to her teacher who studied with someone in California, to her teacher from Kolkata, who maybe studied with a master in Rishikesh. In all that transference of teaching, things get altered in translation, hopefully for the better, sometimes not.
Which is one of the reasons that you can go to a yoga class and have it feel like a mediocre aerobic workout, or like the most spiritual, mind-blowing ritual you ever experienced – and everything in between.
Happy Halloween – enjoy the parade of archetypes!