Saraswati: Guiding us into our Intuition

SaraswatiContinuing my journey into Sally Kempton’s Awakening Shakti, I spent the last month working with the goddess Saraswati. She is known as the goddess of language, insight and sound. She is evoked by practitioners for work with music and mantra, but she can also offer us profound insight and connect to our own intuition. If you’re working with a question in your life right now that you’re having trouble finding clarity on, consider invoking Saraswati to guide you. She offers the following practice:

Write down the question and read it through a few times. Then close your eyes and repeat the mantra to Saraswati nine times:

Aum aim hrim saraswatyai namaha
ohm ai-eem hreem suh-rah-swah-tyai nuh-muh-huh

Ask inwardly for the answer to your question. Then imagine the form of Saraswati. See her as a luminous figure, seated on her vehicle the swan. See a stringed instrument in her hands and see white light emanating from her figure. Breathe with the sense that you are breathing together and with each exhalation visualize your question flowing to her. As you inhale, allow her knowing to flow into your mind.

Now begin to write. Don’t censor, simply let the words flow out (punctuation and spelling are not important). Write until there is nothing left. Read over what you’ve written and then ask “Is there anything more?” and take down whatever arises.

Kali: Goddess of Re-Birth: Destruction as a Birthing Process

KaliI’ve been continuing on my journey of Sally Kempton’s book Awakening Shakti. This past month saw my exploration of the next chapter of the book, the goddess Kali. Kali is an intimidating figure in hindu mythology. She is often depicted with a ring of skulls around her neck, her tongue dripping blood. A force to be reckoned with, she offers us the opportunity of destruction of old ways of being, thinking and outdated modes of behavior that no longer serve us. She is often known as a destroyer, but her destruction is akin to the energy of childbirth. When she destroys things, it is through their death that the new can be born.

I will readily admit that work with Kali is intense. As soon as I began chanting to her, behavior patterns that had lay dormant in my life began to rise up, ready to be faced head on and dealt with. While uncomfortable, her strong motherly insistence invited me to look at things in my life that were no longer serving me and that I was more than ready to let go of. Below is the chant Sally offers as a way to work with Kali’s energy. Ready to cleanse? Ready to let go? Start chanting:

Aum aim hrim klim chamundaye viche svaha
ohm aim hreem kleem chah-mun-dah-yey vich-ey swah-hah

Aum: the primordial sound
Aim: the seed of wisdom
Hrim: creative manifestation
Klim: transformative power
Chamundaye: a name for Kali as the destroyer of the “demons” of ignorance and duality
Viche: cut (as in cutting the bonds of ignorance and ego)
Svaha: the mantra that signifies offering

Embracing the Goddess: Accessing the Abundance of Lakshmi

In my last post, I spoke about Sally Kempton’s new book Awakening Shakti. I had heard a Sound’s True podcast, Invoking the Goddess, where she introduced the material and I was excited to see what the book had to offer. In the previous post, I offered the first goddess in the book, Durga, and the energy of protection she offers when working with her. For me, the remainder of May and June saw the exploration of a new goddess, Lakshmi.

Often known as the goddess of beauty and abundance, Lakshmi is often evoked for matters of money, love and good health. Because of her connection with more worldly desires, I found myself reluctant to work with Lakshmi. However, when I began to explore Lakshmi more deeply through Sally’s work, I found there were other compelling reasons to work with Lakshmi. She lists the following reasons to evoke Lakshmi:

  • Being content with what you have.Lakshmi
  • Feeling good about yourself.
  • Allowing yourself to receive.
  • Experiencing beauty in your life.

To invoke Lakshmi, Sally recommends the
following mantra:

 Aum shrim maha lakshmyai namah
[Ohm shreem muh-hah luhk-shmyai nuh-muh]
“Om, I offer salutations to the great goddess of good fortune.”

Invoking the Goddess: The Power of Durga

DurgaFive months ago, I picked up Sally Kempton’s new book Awakening Shakti. I had heard a Sound’s True podcast, Invoking the Goddess, where she introduced the material and I was excited to see what the book had to offer. I was excited to dive into some practices to explore the pantheon of Hindu goddesses in that way seemed accessible and pertinent to my life experience. When I first picked up this book, I had to make a commitment to myself to read it slowly. Through the book she has 13 chapters that focus on 13 different goddesses and I truly wanted to take the opportunity to explore each one of the goddesses for at least one month.

I spent the month of April and part of May with the goddess Durga. I have always felt a strong resonance with this fierce goddess, often pictured riding her lion mount. Along with Kali, I have always thought of Durga as one of the more fierce goddesses. She is often depicted with a numerous assortments of weapons and her mythology speaks of her slaying armies of demons.

When I started working with Durga, I was exploring setting boundaries in my personal life and how I could strongly ask for what I wanted to, while still being compassionate to the experience of those I was interacting with. Durga became a model for that fierce compassion. Durga is often associated with the energy of protection and is known not only for her strength, but also for her firm mothering energy.

I started working with Durga through many of the practices Sally offers in her book and also committed to chanting to Durga for that 1.5 month period. Sally offers this simple Durga chant, to invoke the goddess’ energy:

Aum dum durgaye namaha

[Ohm doom Door-gai-yey nuh-mu-hu]

“Om and Salutations to that feminine energy which protects from all manner of negative influences.” 

If you’re feeling the need for protection and boundaries in your life, I recommend making the commitment to explore this mantra for the next month. Below is a link to an excellent article written by Sally about working with Goddess Power. She brings a great deal of insight to Durga and Lakshmi in her article,  Goddess Power.

The Pulse of Life

“It is often said that the first sound we hear in the womb is our mother’s heartbeat. Actually, the first sound to vibrate our newly developed hearing apparatus is the pulse of our mother’s blood through her veins and arteries. We vibrate to that primordial rhythm even before we have ears to hear. Before we were conceived, we existed in part as an egg in our mother’s ovary.

All the eggs a woman will ever carry form in her ovaries while she is a four-month-old fetus in the womb of her mother. This means our cellular life as an egg begins in the womb of our grandmother. Each of us spent five months in our grandmother’s womb and she in turn formed within the womb of her grandmother. We vibrate to the rhythms of our mother’s blood before she herself is born. And this pulse is the thread of blood that runs all the way back through the grandmothers to the first mother. We all share the blood of the first mother–we are truly children of one blood.”

-Layne Redmon, When the Drummers Were Women

image by Susan Seddon Boulet

image by Susan Seddon Boulet

Yoga for Sciatica

I recently had a student approach me who had been suffering from sciatica for a while and was looking for ways her yoga practice might be able to support her. Sciatica is tricky because it involves the interplay of several different things: bone, muscle and nerves, all of which can be playing a role in causing the flare ups, and for different people it will manifest differently. As with many issues in the body, its not all about stretching either, if other muscles are not strengthened the stretching only does so much good.

In general, some things to watch if sciatica is present in your practice:

  • Avoid all seated forward folds with legs straight, this will simply aggrevate the sciatica.
  • Modify with poses like janu sirsana where one leg is bent and you are stretching over only one extended leg.
  • Bend knees in downward dog and focus on the back lengthening and pelvic tilt rather than pushing the heels to the floor.

Here are some poses to help support you in home a practice:

To Strengthen

Locust Pose
Work several different variations: 1) only lift legs; 2) lift chest and legs; 3) lift chest and legs, then open legs on inhale close the legs on exhale. This will help to strengthen the piriformis which is often at the root of sciatica issues.

image courtesy of fitsugar.com

image courtesy of fitsugar.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridge Pose
Work variations on this pose as well: 1) begin with feet and legs close together; 2) move to standard feet and knees hip-width apart; 3) move to feet and knees as wide as the mat. This too helps strengthen many supporting muscles.

image from findingdrishti.com

image from findingdrishti.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Stretch

Seated Spinal Twist
Now move into stretching the piriformis with a simple seated spinal twist. If it is too intense with the bottom leg bent, take the option of extending the bottom leg.

image courtesy of fitnessmagazine.com

image courtesy of fitnessmagazine.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon Pose/Thread the Needle
Finish stretching with one or both of these poses. If pigeon is not accessible for you simply work with thread the needle as your variation.

image courtesy of ekhartyoga.com

image courtesy of ekhartyoga.com

image from guysandgoodhealth.com

image from guysandgoodhealth.com

 

The Chickpea

This week in class we are back to the 3rd chakra. As a focus this week, we started working with the fire element of the chakra. I brought to class with me this great poem by Rumi:

Chickpea to Cook

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the potboiling
where it’s being boiled.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

The cook knocks him down with the ladle.

“Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this.”

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
“Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.

I’m like an elephant that dreams of gardens
back in Hindustan and doesn’t pay attention
to his driver. You’re my cook, my driver,
my way into existence. I love your cooking.”

The cook says,
“I was once like you,
fresh from the ground. Then I boiled in time,
and boiled in the body, two fierce boilings.

My animal soul grew powerful.
I controlled it with practices,
and boiled some more, and boiled
once beyond that,
and became your teacher.”

I invite you to sit with this poem. Where in your life are you this chickpea? Where have you chosen to throw yourself into the pot and be boiled? And where can you sit in two seats in you life, one as the chickpea and one as the cook. In actuality we are both, and it is only in our separateness that we don’t realize that we have not only chosen the path but that on some level we already have the knowledge we are seeking. Its through the fire of the 3rd chakra that we have the opportunity to get closer to the wisdom of these places of growth in our lives.