Shiva’s 8,400,000 asanas

Did Shiva really teach 8,400,000 asanas? How many asanas are there? How long is the list? The exact number of asanas is determined by who you ask! The history of yoga asanas on Wikipedia does a good job explaining the exact number of asanas within particular disciplines, giving various counts of 2, 4, 66 with 136 variations, 84, 908 with 1300 variations and the 8,400,000 Shiva list.

Apparently Patanjali never mentioned asanas by name in the great yogic text, The Yoga Sutras but speaks about the basic of elements of the correct seated posture as a part of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. From the Yoga Sutras we can surmise that the four basic asanas are the seated poses such as: Sukhasana (comfortable, cross-legged pose), padmasana (Lotus pose and its variations) Vajrasana (sitting on heels) and staff pose (seated with legs outstretched and feet together).

The Goraksha Samhita or Goraksha Paddhathi, considered the oldest of Hatha Yogic texts lists the 84 classic poses but only describes two in detail: Siddhasana and Padmasana.  The Hatha Yoga Padipika also lists the 84 classic poses and states that the first four are necessary or vital to attain yogic perfection: Siddhasana, Padmasana, Bhadrasana (also known in more contemporary texts as Baddha Konasana, bound angle butterfly pose) and Simhasana.

Shiva’s asanas “most useful in the world of mortals”

Shiva was said to have taught 8,400,000 asanas, which seems reasonable if you’re a god! He toned it down for us mortals and described 32 of the most useful to regular humans. It seems like a good place to start. Here’s the list with notes and common pose names in parenthesis:

    1. siddhasana (siddha in Sanskrit means “perfect” and “adept”)
    2. padmasana (lotus)
    3. bhadrasana (bound angle butterfly)
    4. muktasana (liberation)
    5. vajrasana (vajra in Sanskrit means “thunderbolt” or “diamond)
    6. svastikasana (prosperous – similar to Siddhasana except top foot is tucked into top thigh)
    7. simhasana (lion)
    8. gomukhasana (cow face)
    9. virasana (hero)
    10. dhanurasana (bow)
    11. mritasana (Savasana or Shavasana, corpse)
    12. guptasana (variation to Siddhasana where organ of generation is hidden by both heels, gupta in Sanskrit means hidden)
    13. matsyasana (fish)
    14. matsyendrasana (Lord of the Fishes, seated twist; see half seated twist Ardha Matsyendrasana and Complete Lord of the Fishes Paripurna Matsyendrasana)
    15. gorakshana
    16. paschimottanasana (seated forward bend)
    17. utkatasana (chair)
    18. sankatasana
    19. mayurasana (peacock)
    20. kukkutasana (cock or rooster)
    21. kurmasana (turtle)
    22. uttanakurmakasana
    23. uttanamandukasana
    24. vrikshasana (tree)
    25. mandukasana
    26. garudasana (eagle)
    27. vrishasana
    28. shalabhasana (locust)
    29. makarasana (crocodile)
    30. ushtrasana (camel)
    31. bhujangasana (cobra)
    32. yogasana (staff or Dandasana)

Yoga Sutra I.23 – Getting out of your own way

I’ve always been really curious how one can learn to discern the point where “right” becomes “wrong,” where white starts to bleed grey before becoming black. It is not always so clear cut! I want to know – when does mind-centered determination need to give way to surrender?

How do we know when the contentment of santosha is wrong thinking in disguise? Is there a way to discern the right choice and the right direction in life? Who just asked all those questions anyway? Was it my small mind or my big mind? Early Homo sapiens probably pondered their own variation of these thoughts 200,000 years ago and before. Now, here I am with that same old monkey mind!

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras follows a most interesting format by dividing the sutras or threads into four padas (translated as footprint or step from Sanskrit), providing the backstory to enlightenment, steps to practice, the progression of the yogani, and how liberation is achieved.

In the first pada of the Yoga Sutras Patanjali is describing Samadhi and the theories of yoga. At I.22 Patajali states that the speed with which one arrives is based on whether one employs mild, moderate or intense practice. But then he cuts right to the chase with I.23.

Īśvara-pranidhānād va || I.23 ||

Īśvara – pure awareness, the ideal awareness, God, the Supreme Lord, the Almighty
praṇidhānād – surrender all actions, devotion
vā – OR, ALSO

I believe the meaning and the importance of this sutra is more pronounced because of the Sanskrit word OR (va). A true listener will sit up in their seat when an orator says “you can go this way, that way… OR if you want to just arrive at your destination, do this.” Patanjali is saying Isvara can be attained immediately by surrendering the self, the ego, i.e., getting out of your own way.

Chip Hartranft, in his extensive commentary and translation of the Yoga Sutras, discusses I.23 this way:

Realization may ALSO come if one is oriented toward the idea of pure awareness. Ishvara.

B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Life (p. 261) describes the importance of Īśvara-praṇidhānda va and tells us what it is not, :

“[Īśvara-praṇidhāna va] is the most theistic of all aspects of yoga. Īśvara is Divinity in a general and nondenominational sense. What it definitely does not mean is using the ego to second-guess the will of God. It is, on the contrary, the surrender, through meditation (dhyāna) and devotion (bhakti), of the ego itself.”

Iyengar references I.23 in the closing lines of his book, Core of the Yoga Sutras this way:

“From cita-sakti, the yogi has to move from the four established aims towards the realization of the atman, to surrender totally to God. His journey moves him from citta-prasadana to atma-prasadana and from atma-prasadana to Isvara-pranidhana. Here culminates yoga-marga.”

These ideas combined as a line of reasoning and give me several take homes or points of view to ponder in relation to my original inquiry. We cannot second-guess the will of God. That should mean I can now afford to get out of my own way by eliminating doubt, uncertainty or operating from a lack of saucha (purity of thought).

Chip Hartranft’s translation of the Sutras closes with “… the power of pure seeing. That is all.” For me, yoking the concept of the power of pure seeing and “getting out of our own way” resonated as a potential answer to the opening questions and also addresses the inquiry I bring to my own yoga practice.

What remains for me is another question: what tools or concepts do we really have to help us see the moment when “right” starts to turn “wrong” and we begin to see the “white” turning to the proverbial  “black?” I understand the concepts of not second-guessing God, meditating and surrendering the ego – and the difficulty inherent in that path. The problem is made real everyday when we have to confront situations of loss, betrayal, selfishness, thoughtlessness, and dealing with the suffering we cause our selves and others.

The final answer most certainly is found along the yoga path. I still feel that the dividing line between right and wrong may move ahead of me like the mirage of wavy lines on a hot asphalt highway. As I trudge down the long road to freedom and enlightenment, I am expecting (hoping?) that what feels like giving in to someone else’s “wrong feeling” position today will look more like acceptance tomorrow. What feels like my righteous demands will give way to acquiescence. My own mind will still need to try to determine what is right and wrong. And my hand will still need to bravely draw an emotional boundary as a form of personal ahimsa. The load will become lighter, the path more defined. The monkey mind will become still and free from the need to know today what will be tomorrow’s present moment.