“Before asking the class to do a strenuous pose, tell them a story to make them laugh and relax.”
Iyengar was a good story-teller. One of my favorite Iyengar stories is one he liked to tell about the three types of pupils: the baby monkey, the baby cat, and the fish. “The baby monkey clings to his mother’s back. This type of pupil is always dependent on the teacher. The kitten is restless and runs away. This type of pupil must be chased after and caught. The little fish, his eyes never close! This type of pupil is constantly observing and learning”
Iyengar’s tale is just one fish tale among many in the yoga world. There is another darker tale from which we get the well-known, Lord of the Fishes pose. The story begins with an unwanted infant thrown into the ocean by his family. The unfortunate boy was consumed by a large fish that ended up swimming close to the shore of an island where the Lord of yoga, Shiva, was explaining the mysteries of yoga to his partner Parvati. The fish, looking up with its big eyes at Shiva, remained motionless in the shallow waters, observing and learning. The boy inside the fish was listening as well and when the fish returned to the surface the boy was expelled out of the fish becoming the renowned yogi Matsyendranath. The yoga twisting posture, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Lord of the Fishes pose, is named after this yogi.
What lessons do these fish stories have to offer in late fall as the days get shorter and darker. Perhaps the lesson is that no matter how dark we feel or what adversities we face, it is possible to hear the teachings of yoga.
Our yoga practice can teach us how to be still and observe and stay connected to our lives no matter how deeply we are pulled under by adversity. If only we can be still enough, observant enough to practice yoga consistently and with commitment, we are somehow transformed. We can remain at practice no matter what, and life’s problems are allowed to come and go.