(I posted a blog very similar to this story so if you read it before you can move toward the bottom and read about a different way at looking at this same story :))
Once upon a time in the celestial realms lived a young man, Lord Shiva, and a young woman, Sati (also thought of as Shakti). Shiva and Sati fell madly in love and were wed. Unfortunately their story did not end here. For Sati was the daughter of King Daksha, who never approved of his daughter marrying a dreaded hair yogi who danced, sang, and consumed intoxicants. To show his disapproval, Daksha through a huge party, inviting everyone in the universe except for Shiva and Sati. Sati heard about the lavish party that her father was throwing as a way to punish her and her new husband, Lord Shiva. Annoyed, she begged Shiva to go with her to the party in spite of her father’s wishes. As the wise Lord of Consciousness Shiva replied; “why go, were we are not invited?” Sati disagreed and decided to go alone.
When she arrived her father jokingly announced that she must have come to her senses and left her husband. Sati whom was not amused defended Shiva, even pointing out his divineness, his oneness with nature, his steady unchanging firmness, and his supreme consciousness. She realized her father would never understand so she announced “since you have given me this body I no longer wish to be associated with it!” Determined she took her seat on the floor in the middle of the party and closed her eyes. She visualized Shiva and then through pranayama (breathing techniques) and other yogic exercises she cultivated her Agni (internal fire). Moments later she burst into flames, leaving the body her father had given her!
Out of devastation and grief of Sati’s fiery death, Shiva enraged tore out his hair (or a dread lock depending on which ancient text) throwing it to the ground. From this hair he created the fiercest warrior, which he named Virabhadra. Vira is the Sanskrit word meaning hero and bhadra means friend. I like to think of Virabhadra as faithful servers of Shiva. Shiva instructed Virabhadra to go to the party and seek revenge for Sati’s death.
The actions that Virabhadra took that night in battle are what inspired the asana poses we have come to know as virabradhasana 1, 2, and 3:
Virabhadrasana 1: Virabhadra entered the party by breaking through the ground as he rose from within the earth clasping a sword in each hand.
Virabhadrasana 2: Moments later he spotted Daksha from across the room.
Virabhadrasana 3: Lastly he beheads Daksha.
So that is the story… And every time I think about it a different aspect, a different teaching sticks out to me. I wrote a blog about this story and the ego http://authenticselfyoga.blogspot.com/2010/02/story-of-virabhadra-fierce-warrior.html. In that blog I talk about viewing Daksha as the ego, so Virabhadra is beheading our own ego in service of Shiva, our consciousness. However since writing this blog I have been studying a lot of tantra (Shiva-Shakti and Rajanaka). In this tantra view we don’t believe the ego is nessisaraly a bad thing. The ego is what makes the choices for the I. When I first came across this I idea I was so confused. For so long I have been trying to get rid of my ego. And yes the ego is bad when it makes me coincident, arrogant, cocky….But the ego is also that part of me that chooses to practice yoga, eat healthy, study tantra, meditate, and be kind... The ego in its essence represents the freedom of our life. The freedom what makes life so beautiful. So in tantra we don’t want to behead our ego. Does this make sense?
As I thought about this a different teaching came to mind. I thought about how Shiva represents our Consciousness and the Self while Sati (Shakti) represents the heart and the creative expression of the divine. Their marriage represents the union and experience of the heart, bliss and freedom with the Self. When Shiva and Shakti are united we can experience Param-Shiva the singular Supreme Spirit. Daksha can be viewed as whatever is not serving this union of the self (Shiva) and the heart (Shakti). When we move toward this Supreme Spirit we experience the “Essential Attributes of the Absolute” including: absolute Goodness, Being, Consciousness, Bliss (Sat-chit-ananda), pulsation, self-awareness, ultimate freedom (Svatantrya) and perfect fullness (Purnatva). Daksha represents the “stuff” that stands in our way, prevents us, or pulls us out of our connection with the heart, and the creative freedom of life. Whatever stops you from connecting to the bliss (ananda) that is part of our being (anamaya kosha).
This myth can inspire us to be fierce like the Virabhadra in serves of our Self, encouraging us to “behead” or remove whatever is not serving us in our life. Whatever is stopping us from being more heart centered, and more blissful. I love this. We can then take this view and apply it to each version of virabhadrasana:
Virabhadrasana 1: when he is breaking through the ground. This can represent us showing up for our self. Deciding and acknowledging that there is work to be done so we may connect more fully with our heart. This is the first step. It is empowering it takes strength and dedication, like the strength to break up from the earth.
Virabhadrasana 2: when he is setting his sight on Daksha. This is us looking. It is us being present in our life and seeing what is pulling us out or preventing from experiencing the “Attributes of the Absolute”, from being happy, from being connected to the heart. Maybe this is fear, anger, sadness, insecurity; maybe it is bad friends, drinking, gambling, sex…. Not only do we need to show up (virabhadrasana 1), but we need to dive into our self and see what needs to be “beheaded”.
Virabhadrasana 3: when he is beheading Daksha. This is doing the work. We have showed up (in virabhadrasana 1), we have looked and been present with our self (in virabhadrasana 2), and now we need to do the work, we need to implement changes and behead what is stopping us from being heart centered. Part of this phase is to continuing to show up (virabhadrasana 1 and virabhadrasana 2). It is continuing to practice, continuing to look at our self. A great Sanskrit term for this is Abhyasa.
“Abhyasa is the best term that encapsulates this concept. It's showing up, over and over, for a long period of time with a devoted heart. The word abhyasa means: "a continuous endeavor; constant practice; repetition; exercise; exertion."” (Maria Cristina)
So...as we practice can we show up for our self, look with in and see what is holding us back, and then have the strength to do something about it, and continue this process over and over and over! This is hard work, which is way we can be inspired by this fierce warrior Virabhadra who serves us (Shiva) so we may unite with our heart and creative freedom (Shakti).