September 21, 2010

Jai, Jai Ganesha. ~Nicole Newman

Copyright 2006 flickr user { pranav }

“Did you just give the elephant ginger candy? How can you say that you aren’t Hindu when you chant in Sanskrit and prostrate to an elephant figurine? I thought you considered yourself Jewish. Isn’t this idolatry?”

This barrage of questions encouraged me to examine my relationship with this half-elephant, half-boy deity. I questioned whether I was seduced by the beauty and mystique of an in vogue foreign culture, or perhaps enamored with the deities’ constellation of intricate story lines.

I discovered that, for me, Ganesha’s allure is not his status in the Hindu pantheon, but the creative fire which resides in his firm hara. Literally “belly” in Japanese, hara, implies the place a few inches below the navel, which serves as our center of gravity. Ganesha’s paunch, earning him the name Lambodara, one with “a pendulous belly,” symbolizes equanimity, which springs from this trained center.

In Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfriend Graf Durckheim elaborates: “For every movement is as though anchored in an immovable center from which all motion flows and from which it receives its force, direction and measure. The immovable center lies in Hara.” He continues to describe how “man can become ‘the right vessel’- opened in the right way and closed in the right way, ready to receive and preserve.” This bodily attitude promotes a physiological, psychological and emotional shift.

Poised before the Ganesha alter in Samasthithi, chanting the Ashtanga invocation, I focus my attention on developing this bodily attitude, which becomes imbued with a sense of tangibility. Offering fruits and flowers in honor of his absolute awareness beyond the gunas (the three basic qualities of nature), and chanting his name, firmly roots my intention before taking practice.

Among many things, Ganesha represents five of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika’s prerequisites for success in yoga: courage, daring, perseverance, discriminative knowledge and faith. Similar to the Judaic custom of wearing a yarmulke as an incessant reminder to bring awareness back to G-d, or perhaps to our higher self, tethering my focus to Ganesha and to the cultivation of hara, both on and off the mat, helps me work toward an attitude in consonance with these traits.

Nicole Newman is an Ashtanga practitioner and enthusiast. She studies with her favorite teacher Eddie Stern at the Sri Ganesha Temple.

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