“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” ~Upanishads
During the time of the Upanishads (approximately 3,000 years ago), wisdom was passed from teacher to student orally. There were no texts to read or study, you would learn directly from your teacher (the word Upanishad itself means to “sit near” or “sit at the feet of”). The teachings were offered in the ancient, sacred language of Sanskrit, which is what is known as a vibrational language. It is said that the existence of the entire universe is encoded within the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, and that each letter has a corresponding sound vibration both in the subtle energy channels of our bodies and in the cosmos. So when these words are spoken it was not only the content of the teaching that was being passed down, but the sounds themselves would resonate on an energetic level, infusing the wisdom of the teacher into the very fabric of the students being.
There is actually a similar theory about Hebrew, which is also a vibrational language. The idea originated in a sacred text called the Sefer Yetzirah, which interprets the line from Genesis “God said “let there be light…” to mean that God’s “speaking” is how the universe is created. In Judaism it is widely believed that when you name something you speak it’s essence, which is why there is no real name for God in the Jewish religion, just a bunch of sort of nicknames. The closest we have is what is known as the tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable 4 letter “name” of God (yud-hay-vav-hay in Hebrew, sometimes articulated as Yahweh), but is really closer to the sound of the breath “yaaaah”. This is really a whole other conversation but worth mentioning in this context!
What we glean from all this is that words, language, speech are the very stuff of creation, and in the world of yoga this is the realm of the goddess Saraswati. Sally Kempton says “The gift of speaking truthful teachings and reciting mantras was considered one of the manifestations of Saraswati, and it carried great power.” In modern times we don’t have quite the same influence as those gurus in the forests of India 3,000 years ago, or even farther back to the beginning of time, but we do know that words are incredibly powerful. Matrika Shakti is the Sanskrit term for the inherent creative energy behind the letters that make up a word. And if we look back to the original quote from the Upanishads we see that it is the thought behind the words that is even more important. Matrika Shakti lives deep in our energy body, helping to form our deepest thoughts and intentions, and shape the way we speak and act in the world.
As yogis when we come to our mats or meditation cushions we connect to our highest thoughts and intentions which are the power behind our words, actions, habits, and character. We take the time to connect deeply to the virtues that we wish to bring forth more of in the world, the qualities that bring more joy, freedom and happiness to ourselves and the world around us and allow them to shape our destiny.
Off the Mat:
Begin each day by setting an intention. With your first breaths of the morning, before even opening your eyes, choose a quality you wish to bring forth more of in your life. It can be as simple as gratitude, joy, strength, love, compassion, etc. One word. Take a few moments to plant it deeply in your heart, let the feeling that word evokes in you fill you up, and then let it guide the rest of your day. Let every action flow from wanting to bring more gratitude, joy, strength, etc. to your life and the lives of those around you.
On the Mat:
In my classes this week we started with mindful intention setting, much like the exercise I mentioned above, and worked on staying connected to our intention through our feet. We practiced sequences that kept one foot always aligned and firmly placed on our mats as a way to stay anchored in our intention. This also meant that we stayed on our feet for all of our practice, forgoing Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) and the accompanying vinyasa altogether. Many students, including myself in my own practice, found this really challenging! And yet it’s those times when we are really challenged that we need to be most mindful of our thoughts, so we used those moments to come back to our intention to guide our thoughts and actions as we moved through our practice.
For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace (connected to the breath and the start of each pose or sequence):
Letting the wisdom, knowledge, teachings of our tradition fill you as breath fills you.
Fill with breath and with meaningful thoughts to guide your words and actions.
Let the inner body be bright and filled with intention for your day.
Firm the muscles to create the vessel to contain the energy of your thoughts
Tone your muscle to create a container for the Matrika shakti, the power of our thoughts and words to create.
(From Focal Point) Send your intention down into your feet, plant it in the earth immovable, and let it flow out in all directions.
Let the energy you have cultivated with your intention fill the form of this pose enlivening it with beauty and grace.