Our yoga practice is informed by stories—both ancient epics and the narratives of our own cultures. As yoga teachers we use storytelling to frame and enhance the personal journey we each embark on in our yoga practice. Consider the following tale:
Once upon a time, long long ago, a very pregnant tigress stole through the tall grasses of India. It had been many days since she had found food, and she was very weak. Her swollen belly was a sharp contrast to the spiny ridges of bone visible under her pelt. Luckily, at that moment she stumbled across a herd of goats. She gathered her last strength and crept towards the oblivious goats. Just as she was preparing to pounce, her stomach growled loudly, alerting the goats to her presence. The goats scattered out of her reach. Emptied of power, the tigress died. But before she wheezed her last breath, she gave birth to a tiny cub. Goats, as you may know, are both curious and caring creatures, and they took pity on the defenceless little orphan. Having established that the tigress was no longer a threat, they took the cub in and raised him as their own.
And so the young tiger grew up doing as goats do: eating grass, scratching themselves and bleating loud complaints. It never occurred to him that he was anything unlike the others in his herd. Until one day a large male tiger caught the scent of the herd. This powerful hunter stealthily neared the goats, ready to snatch his prey. He was about to leap when he caught sight of the cub grazing amongst the herd. Perplexed, the tiger forgot the chase and called out to the youngster,
“Hey! What are you doing there?”
“What do you mean?” responded the youngster. “I’m eating grass, as we goats do.”
“But you’re a tiger!” Exclaimed the bigger cat.
“Tiger?” asked the cub. “Never heard of it. I’m a perfect goat.”
This was too much for the older tiger. He grabbed the cub by his scruff and carried him to a nearby pond. The wind was still and the water was smooth as glass.
“Look me in the face, and then look in the water,” ordered the tiger.
The cub studied his reflection in the water. Sure, he saw a resemblance but that didn’t seem to prove he was anything other than a goat. Frustrated, the older tiger again picked up the cub and carried him to his den, where a tigress fed her young. A freshly caught antelope lay splayed and bloody on the ground. The tiger tore a piece of raw flesh off and threw it at the cub.
“Eat this,” he ordered gruffly.
“I can’t eat that! I’m a vegetarian,” proclaimed the cub.
But after a little bit of convincing, he took a tentative bite. And suddenly something overtook him. A fierce growl escaped his bloody lips as he tore into the meat…
But what do all these tigers and goats have to do with the journey of yoga? One of the greatest questions we face in our human experience is surely the question “who am I?” And like the little tiger cub, it often takes some time before we arrive on the right track. Like the tiger, we live among goats without the slightest clue as to what we might truly be. Yoga is a way of nearing an answer to this question. And because we so often lose ourselves along the way, stories can be small lanterns that guide us back onto the path.
Stories and fairy tales have long been present in the human arena and are fundamental markers of the human experience. In every culture, in every period of time, stories have been used to educate, to convey knowledge, and to entertain. The stories we tell shape our cultural viewpoint and inform our values. They tell us how to perceive and interact with the world around us.
Stories also allow us to access a wider viewpoint, to see the possibilities we may have been missing. The magic of a fairy tales plays out not in a world separate from ours, but in the here and now. Although we begin with “once upon a time,” these tales allow us to suspend logic, to step into their scenes as though they were only just occurring. The fantastic figures and circumstances reveal hidden aspects of our psyche, and in our enchantment we recognize ourselves. The story is a mirror to reveal to us who we really are.
Sometimes our task is to listen to the stories of our elders and discern from their messages the deeper wisdom of our culture. However, equally useful is to collect other stories, or to simply step back from the stories we’ve been telling ourselves, in order to see where our stories and our reality diverge. Those same old stories may purvey values that are no longer relevant. They often trap us in gender stereotypes or false aspirations. By paying attention to a diversity of stories, by discovering both the parallels and the range of perspectives that exist across cultural anthologies, we come closer to answering this vital question “who am I.” We are better able to choose which fairy tales we believe to be true. We are able to choose which stories we continue to pass on.
To discover more deeply how the yoga practice is intensified by stories, join Liz and Roland on a journey through the mythical landscape of Morocco for a yoga and storytelling retreat. Morocco reminds us of the magic of stories, of 1001 Nights, and of tales told around a desert campfire under the vastness of the stars. In this retreat we'll draw on the power of storytelling to help us understand elements of the yoga practice. The retreat includes 4 nights accommodation at La Tasgua Yan Beach Resort in Essaouira, one night in Marrakech, two nights at Camp Adounia in the Ouarzazate Desert, tasty vegetarian meals, daily meditation and yoga practices and more.