Yoga and the Hero’s Journey

Yoga and the Hero’s Journey

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As we journey through the trials, tribulations, victories, defeats, loves, and losses of our lives, we we continually cycle through 3 basic archetypes that correspond to the characters of all the great myths and legends of human history: These archetypes are the Hero, the Victim, and the Healer. These 3 archetypes correspond to the 3 gunas or fundamental qualities of manifestation, as described in Sankhya Darshana- Rajas, Tamas, and Sattva. The Hero archetype is synonymous with the Rajas guna, Pingala nadi, the Sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system, the Sun, the masculine. When the Rajas guna is stable, the hero is able to use her energy, skills, and power to make great change for the better of all. When there is too much of the Rajas guna present, the hero becomes destructive, violent, egotistical, cruel, overbearing, domineering, or develops a savior complex.

The Victim archetype corresponds to the Tamas Guna, Ida nadi, the parasympathetic nervous system, the moon, the feminine. When the Tamas guna is present in its correct amount, we are fully receptive and aware of how our thoughts, actions, intentions, and beliefs are affecting others and how others’ thoughts, actions, intentions, and beliefs are affecting us. However when there is too much of Tamas guna present, the victim blames the external circumstances of life for her own internal state, constantly seeks scapegoats on which to place blame for her internal state, thus giving her power away by perceiving that everything is happening “to” him rather than just happening. Too much time spent in this state leads the hero to become bitter, self-defeating, and cynical.

The healer archetype is synonymous with Sattva Guna, the Sushumna nadi (the central channel, a perfect balance of Ida/Pingala, Sun/Moon, Masculine/Feminine, Parasympathetic/Sympathetic nervous systems, etc.). The healer, embodying this archetype, is fully aware of his internal processes, his own evolution, and is concerned with spreading love, healing, assisting themselves and others to evolve and taking full responsibility for their own power, healing, and emotional state.

The cycle through these 3 archetypes follows a similar trajectory in all the great myths and constantly throughout our lives. First we become inspired by some great ideal or cause, we want to be a vessel for change, we really want to help, so we charge into the world headstrong, taking action and making change. In this process, we necessarily placing great importance on the external world and generally face great resistance in doing so. Eventually, we use up all our energy on this great cause of action, burn out, retreat, recharge, process, and enter into victim archetype- during this process, we realize how much importance we placed on our cause to save the world, and we also see how much suffering we have inflicted upon ourselves and others, simply by our actions carried out in Rajas mode. Usually, as we recover and reflect in Tamas mode, we are able to discover the Healer/Sattva archetype by recognizing both the cause and the remedy for all the suffering we have caused to ourselves and others while constantly vacillating between hero and victim. Eventually, we heal and recover, and then something else happens that stimulates us to action, and we repeat the process.

However, gradually, the more time we spend under the influence of Sattva Guna, cultivating our Sattvic state, our Healer mode, the less time we spend vacillating between the extremes of hero and victim. Our internal pendulum no longer swings so deeply into the extremes of this duality and the suffering begins to alleviate. While swinging back and forth between healer and victim, there is still a sense of duality and disconnection (the hero necessarily perceives an ‘antagonist’ that must be conquered; the victim feels powerless against some external force), whereas the healer is deeply aware of the total interconnectedness and unity of all things and all beings. Fear is the enemy which disconnects, separates, and fragments our awareness into that duality and away from the unity consciousness of the Healer. Love is that which connects.

So, of course, the hero/victim duality is required for living. There will always be external battles for us to fight. The heroine puts herself in danger and exposes herself to ridicule and anger of the world, often sacrificing herself for the greater good. Playing the hero all the time is completely unsustainable- examples in myth and legend abound- to wit, the “great doubt” we see in every hero who ever walked the earth is a result of this. In the Ramayana, at the scene of the last great battle, after Rama had defeated the hordes of grotesque asuras, or demons, and was about to face off with the demon king Ravana, he finds himself injured, exhausted, ready to give up, cursing his fate, on the verge of defeat. The opening scene of the Iliad finds Achilles in the same mode- 10 years into the war, burned out, refusing to fight any longer, disillusioned, hiding away in full on victim mode, with a “the world screwed me, so screw the world” mentality, although he is the greatest warrior in Greece and his army desperately needs him. Same story with Arjuna on the edge of his great battle in the Bhagavad Gita. Bruce Willis’s character at the beginning of Die Hard- cynical, weary, recuperating, blaming the world for all his troubles. In all of these scenarios, at the darkest moment of doubt, a mentor comes along- for Rama, it is the sage Agastya who appears on the scene just in the nick of time, teaches him the Aditya Hridayam-The Heart of the Sun- the most powerful mantra that exists, which immediately restores his Rajas guna, solar/masculine/Ida/Sympathetic nervous system, pulls him immediately out of victim mode, and back into the heroic state so that he can defeat Ravana and save the world. For Achilles, it is Nestor, the blind sage, who wanders in and convinces him to jump back in the fray so the Helen can be saved. Obi Wan and Yoda, guiding a silly, bumbling, inexperienced Skywalker towards his destiny. Krishna revealing his true form to Arjuna at the moment of his deepest doubt and victimhood. In each of these scenarios, the healers, guides, mentors represent the Sattvic state. Agastya, Nestor, Obi-Wan and Yoda, are never themselves the ones fighting, nor are they the victims cursing the world and blaming others for their fate. They are simply there to restore the balance of Rajas/Tamas, playing a middle role so that the protagonist can continue his mission. Ever wise, equanimous, and content, representing the deeper wisdom beyond the ever revolving Rajas/Tamas fluctuation, these Healers have all put in a lifetime fluctuating  between these modes, but through their wisdom practices have come to fully embody the Healer archetype and are no longer subject to the fluctuation.

In my understanding, the practice of Yoga, with a firm understanding of Sankhya philosophy and the three Gunas, is the original metaphor for the journey through these archetypes, and a way to gain greater control over, or at least better understanding of, this eternal fluctuation so that we can see how it affects our psyches. Specifically, in the 5 pranayamas Krishnamacharya passed to BNS Iyengar from the Himalayan sages, Ida = Tamas = left nostril = sympathetic nervous system = moon; Pingala = Rajas = right nostril = parasympathetic nervous system = sun; Shusumna = central channel = perfect sympathetic/parasympathetic balance; perfect sun/moon balance. The practice of pranayama is a very potent metaphor for this fluctuation. Puraka (inhalation ) Rechaka (exhalation) and Kumbakha (retention) correspond to these three states. The 5 specific are pranayamas accompanied with visualisations and mudras for balancing and working within these modes- by working with one channel or the other, depending on which archetype we are inhabiting, we can stimulate the opposite channel, returning to balance, inducing longer periods of kumbhaka in which we inhabit and remain within the Sattvic state for longer periods of time.

‘Nature’ is the manifest world subject to the immutable laws of Rajas/Tamas/Sattva fluctuation. For the universe to even exist, polarity must occur – Duality must be at play in order for any kind of manifestation, and for us to exist in physical form at all, we must agree to play this game of fluctuation. However, through certain specific practices of Yoga and pranayama, we are able to bring greater conscious control over the interplay of Rajas/Tamas within our own consciousness, spending more time under the Sattvic archetype, and learning how to greater witness the nature of that interplay within our own psyches and eventually master it rather than being dragged back and forth by the eternal tug-of-war.

Joey Paz (RYT-500), who will be teaching our Yoga retreat March 3-11, 2019, is a longtime practitioner and devotee of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the lineage of Sri BNS Iyengar. Click here to read his complete bio.

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Sankhya Darshana: The Theoretical Foundations of Yoga Philosophy

Sankhya Darshana: The Theoretical Foundations of Yoga Philosophy

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Sankhya Darshana: The Theoretical Foundations of Yoga Philosophy


In the west, we often use the term “yoga philosophy” to describe the essence and meaning of texts such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. In India, there is another word that is more commonly used for philosophical texts, doctrines or theories- the Sanskrit word “Darshan.” At the same time, however, the English word “philosophy,” which comes from the Greek “Philo”- (wisdom) and “Sophia”- (love), is not necessarily the best translation for this word. “Darshan” in Sanskrit, is more accurately described along the lines of “vision” or “to see”- something seen or revealed to the great Rishis of ancient times through deep states of meditation. In Darshan, the Rishis, through the great Vedic scriptures, reveal to us what has been revealed to them, so that we may have the same vision ourselves. But what visions await us? What is it that we are meant to see? The true self. The ultimate goal behind all Darshan is to know, “who am I?” There are two directions one can go in search of the answer to this question- outward, or inward. The former journey finds its expression in physics, biology, the scientific method. The latter method, the inward path, is expressed through Darshan, ultimately leading to the science of Yoga.


The basis of all Indian spiritual thought are the Vedas. The importance of the Vedas, the oldest known extant religious scriptures and the earliest known examples of human literature, cannot be overstated when discussing the origins of yoga philosophy. The textual representation of the Vedas are divided into 4 compilations:

  • Rig Veda, concerned with the universal consciousness,

  • Yajur Veda, concerned with rituals and karma (actions),

  • Sama Veda – concerned with chanting, vibration, and sound,

  • Atharva Veda – concerned with formulas, magic spells and occult knowledge such as Yantra, Mantra, and Tantra.


With the Vedic texts as a foundation, there have evolved 9 main Darshans over the last several millennia in India. These 8 darshans are divided into 2 categories: Āstika and Nāstika. Āstika Darshan accept the supreme authority and premise of the Vedas -in western terminologies, orthodox philosophies- while Nāstika (heterodox philosophies) do not accept the Vedas as the source of all knowledge.

The 6 Āstika darshans are:

– Sankhya Darshan, the enumeration school- founded by the sage Kapila, Sankhya Darshan introduces the concept of Purusha and Prakriti and describes the elements of creation – more on this later.

– Yoga Darshan, founded by Patañjali (which assumes the metaphysics of Sankhya), is the first Darshan to give structure and practical steps to the practice of yoga. Its foundational text is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

– Nyaya Darshan, the school of logic, asserts that there are only 4 sources from which knowledge can be attained: 1. Perception, 2. Comparison, 3. Inference/experience, 4. Words of enlightened beings such as Patanjali, Kapila, etc.

– Vaisheshika Darshan, the atomist school – perhaps the most “scientific” of the Darshans, Vaisheshika asserts that there are only 2 sources of knowledge – perception and inference. Vaisheshika also introduces elements of atomic theory.

– Mimamsa Darshan, the tradition of Vedic exegesis. This Darshan is karma and ritual based.

– Vedanta Darshan, the Upaniṣadic tradition- “The conclusion of the Vedas.” Vedanta Darshan can be either dualistic or non-dualistic (Advaita Vedanta of Shankaracharya is considered non-dualistic Vedanta), and is mainly concerned with the interplay between Brahman (ultimate reality/soul) and Jivatman (Individual reality/soul).



And the 3 main Nāstika darshans are:

– Charvaka, the materialist or skeptic school – “eat, drink, and be merry”

– Jainism, the liberation school

– Buddhism, the school of the 4 Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path.


Diving into the depths of these schools of thought would, and indeed has, filled volumes. But since the title and hence the focus of this entry is the Sankhya Darshan, let us now turn to it for further discussion.


The word “Sankhya” is composed of two separate Sanskrit roots: The noun sankhyā, meaning number; based on the root khyā (to “name” or “make known”) with the prefix sam-  meaning “together.”  The system of Sankhya Darshan was first composed in written form by the philosopher Ishvarakrishna, in the 3rd century CE, although many references to Sankhya can be found in earlier texts, such as the Mahabharata, suggesting that Sankhya itself is actually much older than its first written composition, The Sankhya Karika of Ishvarakrishna would suggest.


In brief, this text attempts to enumerate the 25 elements of creation which compose the dual nature of reality. In doing so, Sankhya is the first system to describe two very important terms that can be found in many following systems of Indian thought – these are Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha is pure consciousness, the latent, formless, qualityless, unmanifest spirit that encompasses and pervades everything that exists, while Prakriti describes the manifested elements of creation- matter, in other words. With this concept of Purusha and Prakriti, Sankhya makes its case for the both the evolution and the dual nature of reality.


Prakriti, on its own, cannot evolve. It is stagnant. The force of evolution can only occur when Prakriti is infused with Purusha. This fusion is the source of all growth, movement, and evolution. It is only when Purusha fuses with Prakriti that nature can manifest itself. When this fusion of consciousness/spirit and matter occurs, manifestation of matter and the process of evolution can begin. When the pure consciousness of Purusha manifests itself as Prakriti, it needs some method of perceiving itself. This necessitates the formulation of the Buddhi- individual intelligence or awareness. Out of Buddhi, Ahamkara is formed – the individual, self-identifying ego consciousness that allows us to identify ourselves as existing in the universe as individual beings, as well as maneuver through prakriti.


The ahamkara further divides into the jñanedriyas (the organs of perception- sight, taste, touch, smell, hearing); the karmendriyas (the organs of action- arms, legs, mouth, genitals and anus);  and the Pancha Bhuta- the five gross elements, consisting of space (akasha), air (vayu), fire (agni), water (apa), and earth (pruvthi). The ability to identify and experience these elements requires manas – the analyzing mind commissioned with the task of coordinating the sense impressions.


The entire manifest universe is the result of the ever-changing permutations and combinations of these various principles, through with the Purusha can function as the driver of evolution.

In The Sankhya Karika of Ishvara Krishna with commentary by Radhanath Phukan, published by Ishwar Ashram Trust, Phukan writes in the introduction:

“The method of analysis is the same in the Sankhya as in the modern science. In science also, gross matter is taken up first for analysis which is carried ultimately to such a subtle stage that one may doubt whether the universe is at all real. The Relativity and the Quantum Theories lend support to the conclusion of the Sankhya philosophies and to one who is conversant to these theories, a proper understanding of the Sankhya philosophy would be quite easy.”


Thus, one can say that Sankhya is both macrocosmic and microcosmic in its scope. In breaking down the elements of creation to its most subtle building blocks, it aims to demonstrate that there is no end to the subtlety, and that no matter how closely one looks at physical reality, it is pure spirit or consciousness that can be found as both the basis and the animator of it all. So eventually, when peering into these quantum depths, we arrive at the obvious question: where does yoga come into the picture? What does this system of ancient quantum mechanics have to do with downward facing dog?


It is a common statement in India that Sankhya Darshan and Yoga Darshan are “sister systems” in that Sankhya is the theoretical aspect of Yoga and Yoga is the practical aspect of Sankhya. While Sankhya pinpoints, describes, and breaks down its vision of cosmology and creation, Yoga comes along and tells us exactly what steps we must follow in order to disentangle our ahamkara, or ego, with the prakriti that composes our physical bodies, so that we may identify with purusha, which is our true self. This is where Patanjali comes in with his famous Sutras. Without first understanding Sankhya, it is difficult to truly understand Patanjali’s step by step guide on how to stop fooling ourselves to believe that we are part of what our senses can identify in order to finally see what we truly are – Purusha, soul, pure consciousness.

Now that we have discussed Sankhya, the “theory” of yoga philosophy, in our next entry we will discuss The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, often referred to as “the bible of yoga”- the practical, step by step system by which we can retrain our minds to identify with that Purusha which gave birth to our individual consciousness.



Joey Paz (RYT-500), who will be teaching our Yoga retreat March 3-11, 2019, is a longtime practitioner and devotee of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the lineage of Sri BNS Iyengar. Click here to read his complete bio.

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A brief history of Ashtanga Yoga

A brief history of Ashtanga Yoga

By: admin@flowingwp

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A brief history of Ashtanga Yoga. As told by Sri BNS Iyengar


This is the first in a new series of blogs covering the history, philosophy, and mythology of yoga written by Joey Paz, who will be teaching the upcoming Ecuador Adventure Yoga Retreat March 3-11, 2019 at Flowing River Resort. Stay tuned each week for a new entry!



Far back in the mists of time, when the world was still young, Lord Shiva observed that the majority of people living on earth were unhappy – living like beasts in a constant struggle to survive. Life was a harsh and violent struggle. Displeased with this pain and suffering that had become the plight of humanity, Shiva decided that the time had come to undertake his most sacred duty- to destroy all of creation so that a new era could arise and all things be born anew. His lover, Parvati, looked on with sadness as he smeared his body with sacred ash, laced his neck with skulls, and prepared to dance his cosmic dance of death. She decided to intervene. “Oh, Shiva, do not destroy them, but have mercy on them- couldn’t you give them a way to be happy instead?” She begged him. Shiva, seeing the tears of compassion in his wife’s eyes, hesitantly agreed to her wishes. “Very well. Instead of destroying the world, I shall teach you the secrets of Yoga- but you must take this knowledge to the people.” And so it was that Shiva taught Parvati the path to realization, which she in turn taught to a select group of Rishis, establishing the secrets of Kundalini Yoga on the earth. However, the Rishis did not share this knowledge with the masses of humanity, believing it to be far too dangerous and esoteric for the common people. And thus, the majority of humanity went on living the same harsh and undignified lives as before. Taking notice of this, Lord Vishnu assumed the form of an avatar named Dattatreya, who descended to earth for the purpose of establishing a new lineage that could be practiced by everyone- Hatha Yoga. The practices of Hatha Yoga soon became established in the world, as Dattatreya wandered tirelessly, teaching Hatha Yoga to wandering ascetics all over India. His efforts were not in vain- for 900 years, there was paradise and peace. Because everyone practiced yoga, India was perfect- free of war, crime, poverty, and disease. This Golden Age was not to last, however. By the time Dattatreya’s 9th disciple, Swatmarama, had begun to pen the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, compiling the practices in an attempt to preserve the teachings, great darkness and disaster was afoot.




During the 900 year period of peace and stability brought about by the widespread practice of Hatha Yoga, society had made great advances culturally and scientifically. As a result, more and more yogis were leaving the forests and the ashrams, abandoning the austere kriyas and penances of yoga sadhana for the relative comfort and ease of city life. With this change in lifestyle they soon learned that to live in the city, one must have money. They began to use their previously attained siddhis and yogic powers not as a way to get realization, but to obtain money- and thus, the once proud keepers of the Hatha Yoga lineage, corrupted by city life, devolved into wandering bands of thieves and con artists. The principles of yoga were lost, and society eventually turned against yogis, regarding them as little more than scoundrels, tramps, and tricksters. The citizens, fed up with their antics and debauchery, formed mobs to drive the yogis out of their cities. In retaliation, the yogis took up arms and formed battalions – the threat of all-out war loomed on the horizon.

At the height of this tension, there was one righteous yogini left on earth, a woman named Gonika, whose dedication and devotion to the true principles of yoga would prove to save the world. To her we shall return.



Meanwhile, in the cosmic realms, Vishnu was resting on his bed, Adi Sesha Naga, the thousand-headed serpent whose coils hold the universe intact, observing Lord Shiva as he practiced his dance – it was so graceful, so beautiful, and pleased Vishnu so much, that he began to vibrate and become lighter than air. When Shesha noticed this, he asked, ‘My lord, what is happening? You are becoming weightless!’ To which Vishnu replied by pointing to Shiva’s dance. Shesha, always eager to please his lord, was determined to learn this dance himself. He asked Shiva to teach him. “In order to learn this dance,” Shiva said, “there are two conditions: first, you must take human birth upon the earth. Second, the principles of yoga have been compromised and corrupted, as you can see from the battle brewing on earth. You must restore yoga to its true purpose.” Shesha quickly agreed to these conditions.

Let us now return to the last righteous yogini, Gonika, who was devotedly practicing Surya Namaskar on the bank of a river, praying to Lord Surya to grant her a son to whom she could pass on her knowledge of Yoga. Cupping water from the river in her hands to offer up to Surya as oblation, she looked down to see a tiny half-boy, half serpent, coiled in her palms. It was Shesha, in fulfillment of Shiva’s promise, taken birth in half-human half-serpent form. “I shall call you Patanjali,” she said, “And I will teach you all proper principles of yoga, that one day, harmony will be restored upon this earth.” And so it was that Patanjali learned the principles of yoga, composed his famous Yoga Sutras, establishing the 8 limbs of Ashtanga in the world. For thousands of years, Patanjali’s Sutras remained the most cohesive and widely revered text an manual on the practice of Yoga ever produced.

But again, the practice of yoga in India was to become compromised… Not by corruption this time, but from external invasion. It is here we must fast forward a few millennia to Mysore, India, in the early 20th century.



India in the 1930s was in dire straits. The British occupation had taken its toll- poverty and famine were egregious and rampant. For this reason, the practice of yoga had again fallen into disuse among the Indian people – for who can think to practice yoga when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from? In the south of India, the kingdom of Mysore, there was a king called Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar, Who looked upon the dire poverty with great shame. He sought to bring his kingdom back to a place of abundance, strength, & confidence that once defined his people. Around this time, he met a yogi named Krishnamacharya, who had just returned from the Himalayas, where he had spent seven years learning a hybrid of Hatha, Kundalini, and Ashtanga Yoga from his guru, a cave-dwelling yogi called Ramamohan Brahmachari. Recognizing Krishnamacharya’s genius, the king immediately invited him to Mysore, offered him a salary, placed him in the Mysore palace, where Krishnamacharya had his own wing, and plenty of royal funding to begin the world’s first “Yoga program.” This period marked a renaissance of yoga asana in India. Krishnamacharya and his top students begin to formulate unique and potent sequences of yoga, combining them with principles of mudra, pranayama, meditation, ethics, and psychology, coining the term “Vinyasa” to describe their unique method of linking poses together using Ujjayi breath. Two of his students in particular, Pattabhi Jois and BNS Iyengar, spent the next few decades fine-tuning this vinyasa method to such a degree that it began to attract worldwide attention, attracting scores of Westerners to Mysore to learn yoga. Among them, David Williams, Danny Paradise, Doug and David Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff, and others, traveled to India during this golden era of Ashtanga, bringing the practices back with them to California and Hawaii. It was here where this powerful method and transmission of yoga took root, and swept across the USA and Europe all throughout the 1970s and 80s, influencing and giving birth to the majority of yoga styles in the west that have since sprung up. It was in the wake of this great renaissance that I took my first yoga class at Ashtanga Yoga Studio in Norman, Oklahoma in 2008. Since then, I have had the great honor of returning to India on many occasions to learn the methods and philosophy of this lineage, studying this practice in its depth with Guruji, Sri BNS Iyengar, one of the last surviving students of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and the world’s most elder living master in the practice and philosophy of Ashtanga Yoga. It is this practice and lineage that I am honored to share in greater depth, March 3-11, 2019 at the Ecuador Adventure Yoga Retreat at Flowing River Resort.

You can view the complete syllabus and retreat schedule, as well as enroll HERE. Feel free to contact me at for any questions about the schedule or practices. Hari Om!



Joey Paz (RYT-500), who will be teaching our Yoga retreat March 3-11, 2019, is a longtime practitioner and devotee of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the lineage of Sri BNS Iyengar. Click here to read his complete bio.

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