Upright Living in Upside-Down Times

Aug 10, 2020

 

One of my friends, a fellow yoga teacher, turned 85 last week. In response to my email wishing him a happy birthday he wrote,
 
I did a headstand to celebrate in these upside-down times.
 
That felt appropriate. Usually, yoga friends might celebrate such an occasion with 85 Sun Salutations, but this year it makes sense to go upside down. It’s feels like that’s just how life is these days.
 
My friend’s message reminded me of the upside-down representation of the Shiva Nataraj.
 
Many of us might be familiar with this typical representation of the Ananda Tandava, the divine dance of Lord Shiva:

It portrays the five acts of Shiva, Shiva as the source of the five universal processes – creation, maintenance, dissolution, concealment, and revelation.
 
But there’s an alternative version of the Shiva Nataraj that’s much rarer, where Shiva is depicted upside down balancing on one arm: 

One of the interpretations of this form of the Shiva Nataraj is that it represents the experience of ultimate freedom. The notion that Shiva, as the principle of Supreme Consciousness, isn’t limited by the relative world. He’s the all-pervasive, absolute reality. As such, he transcends time, space, and even the laws of physics.
 
Consider how your practice serves you during these upside-down times.
 
Sure, literally going upside down like my friend did, is one way to approach it.  Purposely turning reality temporarily on its head can certainly help us gain a new and broader perspective.
 
But even without necessarily doing a headstand, yoga teaches us how go beyond the ups and downs of outer life. It gives us the means to go beyond the usual way of looking at things and maintain an expanded, fresh vision. It helps us stay centered even, and especially, when life feels like it’s turned on its head.
 
Sometimes, we may even glimpse the freedom of what it’s like to be that upside-down Shiva. We might touch the all-pervasive, absolute reality that yoga tells exists beyond the polarities of up and down, right and wrong, success and failure.
 
All this, I believe, helps us to live in a more upright way, not just physically, but in our character. Yoga helps us to be more conscientious and honorable people. It helps us live in integrity and alignment with our values. It helps us stay connected to our purpose and motivated to contribute to the betterment of the world. And all of that is needed now more than ever.
 
When reality feels upside down, there’s nothing more valuable than having the tools to feel upright.
 
How does your practice help you to live in integrity, in alignment with your purpose and your values?

 

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