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Myths of the Asanas: The Ancient Origins of Yoga

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Practitioners around the world reap the physical benefits of yoga, assuming poses and frequently calling them by their Sanskrit names. While many know that hanumanasana is named for the deity Hanuman, few understand why this is the case. Behind each asana and its corresponding movements is an ancient story about a god, sage, or sacred animal, much like Aesop’s fables or European folktales. Myths of the Asanas is the first book to collect and retell these ancient stories. The myths behind yoga’s spiritual tradition have the power to help students of all levels realize their full potential. Meditating on the tolerance of trees while standing in tree pose can help one become more tolerant. Learning how the disfigured sage Astavakra came to be the teacher of a king can liberate us from anxieties about our external appearance and our self imposed limitations. Marveling at Hanuman’s devotion to Ram can serve as a source of spiritual strength and determination. With more than sixty beautiful illustrations to frame the stories, Myths of the Asanas will add a new dimension to your practice and study of yoga.

192 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2010

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Alanna Kaivalya

9 books10 followers

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5 stars
333 (47%)
4 stars
237 (34%)
3 stars
105 (15%)
2 stars
17 (2%)
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4 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews
Profile Image for Lauren .
1,712 reviews2,308 followers
October 19, 2016
Beautiful collection of mythic stories drawing from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and the asana postures that are inspired by them. Kaivalya and van der Kooij compiled a lovely book that I will use over and over again for my own practice and sharing with students.
Profile Image for JoAnna.
605 reviews8 followers
June 15, 2017
Three-line review: The first of four books I have to read for my yoga teacher training class, this was an easy introduction into the physical poses combined with the myths associated with yoga. I've always enjoyed myths and fairy tales, and these easy-to-read stories were new to me – though no less fantastical than Greek, Roman or Norse mythology. The book did a great job of tying each pose to its respective myth and a larger theme or lesson, so there was something applicable to take away from the reading.
Profile Image for Hester.
36 reviews
February 11, 2023
Wat een tof boek! Bij allerlei yogahoudingen wordt in verhalende vorm de achtergrond of de bijbehorende mythe verteld, waardoor je echt beter begrijpt waar de houding voor bedoeld is. De verhalen bij b.v. matsyasana (vishouding) en bakasana (kraanvogel) zijn afwisselend vermakelijk en ontroerend. Een aanrader.
Profile Image for Jennifer Marlowe.
10 reviews7 followers
November 23, 2017
This book is another to assist in deepening the practice of yoga. Defining the mythic meaning behind many asanas (poses) helps to bring further awareness and meaning to our daily physical practice.

Highly recommend for all teachers and students of yoga
Profile Image for Lisa.
231 reviews15 followers
July 9, 2018
I wish there had been some worked cited or a bibliography in order to do some further research.
Profile Image for Colleen.
363 reviews
February 17, 2019
An enjoyable read which likely will add a dimension to my yoga practice; the book is attractively designed. 3 1/2 stars
Profile Image for Katie Ness.
122 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2023
I've had this book on my shelf since 2019 and have only dipped in and out of it until now. I'm currently studying an academic course in Sanskrit (Devanāgarī) which has deepend my studies of the yoga sutras, mantra and myths of asanas.

Truly grasping their sanskrit names and stories/meaning has really helped deepen my own yogic practice. For me yoga isn't just the asanas, those who only practice the postures are only seeing one branch of a massive tree that is yoga. To fully appreciate (and respect) where these postures come from, one needs to have some understanding of the philosophies and honour their sanskrit names too, other wise you are just another westerner doing pilates and gym stretches for fitness which misses the point of yoga entirely.

This book is a great break down of the meaning of the yoga asanas (poses) beautifully illustrated and explains why each pose looks the way it does, why we perform it and what the story is behind it. It is now a firm favourite, a great companion in my own yoga classes with my YTT training manual.

Written by established and renowned teachers and endorsed by the incredible Shiva Rea and Manorama (director of school of Sanskrit in New York) you know you've got a credible gem of a book in your hands.
This is accessible for students and teachers alike, I've seen it used in yoga classes as a great intro to a lesson! It is a book I'll always come back to for a refresh.
Profile Image for daemyra, the realm's delight.
874 reviews38 followers
August 20, 2019
Treat yourself and get this in the physical copy. It has that amazing book smell and the pages are nice and thick. But enough about how it looks. If you like myths and do yoga, you will have fun with Myths of Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij.

This book was created for all that have ever wondered about the backstory to the asanas we practice. Myths of Asanas divides the poses into four sections, that of the yogi, gods, sages, and animals and earth, with an introduction for each section. There are 30 poses, give or take. Sometimes, 3 poses are grouped under the same header. For example, in the gods section, Hanumansana, anjaneyasana and virasana are grouped as one section. I have counted it as one.

It is an inspiring text that you will refer to again and again. I particularly loved the explanation of the chakras in wheel pose, of the crazy story behind Hanuman and warrior pose. I loved the discussion of samsara and fear of change in Dancer’s pose, of the theme of how we are entitled to action but not to the fruits of that action in Plank pose, as well as the value of healthy detachment from our external appearance in Eight Angle pose.

Highly recommend adding this to your yoga bookshelf. The only thing is, I wish there were more asanas and myths. If there is a part 2 to this, I would be all over it.
Profile Image for Knit Spirit.
603 reviews16 followers
April 5, 2019
Ce livre est découpé en plusieurs catégories :
– les postures des yogis
– les postures des dieux
– les postures des sages
– les animaux et la Terre
Pour chaque posture, il y a d’abord un dessin de celle-ci avec une introduction générale et ensuite un texte (plus ou moins long) sur le mythe dont elle est issue.
J’ai adoré découvrir le mythe derrière chaque asana, c’est clair, concis et passionnant ! C’est sûr que je relirai régulièrement ce livre, notamment pour pouvoir raconter certains passages à mes élèves.
Profile Image for Reading Cat .
323 reviews13 followers
November 17, 2020
Very fast read, that I've re-read several times. I knew most of the legends she references, but somehow I never made the connections between the characters and the asanas she lists. They are, of course, not ALL the asana in yoga. But there are plenty of common ones, and it's a lovely way to add some depth to a class, to consider the story behind the asana--the story of Hanuman's courage, driven by his love of Ram, that made him make that incredible leap. What a great story to inspire!

Not the deepest book ever, but a great and approachable read to deepen any yoga practice.
Profile Image for Pili.
1,163 reviews216 followers
August 13, 2017
3.5 stars. I really loved how the connections between myths and asanas were explained, and how easy to read the language used for explaining the myths were. It is true that at times the myth devolved into more mystic/religious territory than this atheist is comfortable with, but that's just my perspective. All in all, a very interesting read!
74 reviews2 followers
July 28, 2020
Gentle yoga teaching

reading this book is like sipping a warm cup of tea made with love. I actually csn feel how much love is flowing in between the pages. I want to remember all the wonderful stories here but I think what I will remember the most is the warmth emanating from holding and reading it.
Truly glad that I read it
Profile Image for R.T. Kilgore.
Author 2 books12 followers
January 9, 2022
I earned my yoga teacher certification and was interested in where all the poses got their origins and names. This was a short, sweet, and fun way to begin learning the stories of the asanas and Hindu traditions in general. I would recommend this to anyone that wants to learn more about their yoga practice, or for anyone interested in the Indian culture.
Profile Image for Aimee Neill.
42 reviews3 followers
April 28, 2022
Beautiful book! It was suggested reading for my Kid’s Yoga Teacher Training and it was wonderful! Anyone intrigued with the history and stories of yoga will enjoy this book — I’m glad to give it a place of honor among my other yoga reading. ❤️
Profile Image for Matthew.
315 reviews
May 7, 2022
A wonderful book that expanded my understanding of many asanas. My only criticism is the writing could've been heightened in some areas, but I enjoyed this immensely and will return to it over and over again to deepen my practice.
Profile Image for Cherie.
3,331 reviews27 followers
July 26, 2017
I wish they included more of the asanas I'd love to talk about and that I do more often, but this is a guide to the stories behind the asanas. Didn't love how it was organized.
Profile Image for Christina.
48 reviews
August 5, 2017
A nice little book for everyone who is interested in learning The stories behind The asanas.
227 reviews2 followers
April 6, 2019
This book is beautiful in all ways. It was the easiest to understand depiction of yogic myth and philosophy that I have ever read, the art is stunning and it's filled with wisdom bombs.
Profile Image for Sinimalism.
46 reviews2 followers
November 29, 2019
Such a mystical stories that I always want to get back to read maybe one for evening. So much we can learn from the deepness of these stories.
Profile Image for Keisha Adinkra.
25 reviews2 followers
February 7, 2020
Beautifully written! I enjoyed learning about the myths behind the asanas. I recommend reading all or some parts of the stories to your yoga students!
Profile Image for Logan Streondj.
Author 2 books11 followers
March 10, 2021
It is what it claims to be, plenty of good stories in easy to understand narrative fashion conveying a variety of moral lessons. Can be good for reading to children also.
Profile Image for Rachel Van Sickle.
71 reviews1 follower
April 5, 2021
Great book! It inspired me to look more deeply into yoga myths. There were a few annoying typos that were distracting, but wonderful content.
Profile Image for Magdalena Moszynska.
26 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2021
A fantastic, inspiring bedtime read. This book can also be used as supporting material to draw ideas for themes in your yoga class.
November 9, 2022
Beautiful presentation of the mythology behind the yoga asanas or postures. Recommendable for anyone wishing to take their asana practice to the next level.
Profile Image for Marina.
302 reviews4 followers
February 4, 2020
The Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition presents mythology from Hindu scriptures related to a variety of yoga asanas. I found it to a great introductory text with it's short, easily digestible chapters! It inspires an appetite to continue to learn more and read the myths in more detailed forms.
Profile Image for Alex Rosenblum.
44 reviews2 followers
January 2, 2014
Easy read. Good background for the asanas. Great things to think about and help deepen the practice especially in balance poses and twists. I didn't know much about the names of poses except that that they often visually represented them, so this will give me some good things to reflect on in class:)
Some descriptions - lotus pose, fish pose, peacock pose, felt significant and I guess that would be personal to the reader/ practitioner. Definitely good addition to any yoga library.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
1,035 reviews56 followers
September 29, 2016
I really liked this book. It outlined the myths behind different Yoga poses and I felt like it explained a lot of the teachings of Yoga in a really easy to read format. The book itself is presented so beautifully. There are really nice illustrations and the pages are so clearly presented. There are quite a few coloured pages too which I really liked. I loved this book and would definitely recommend it to others.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 49 reviews

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