Have you heard the story of Virabhadra? Virabhadrasana is the Sanskrit name for Warrior Pose. I tell this story to the children often in my Yoga class. It’s a story of Shiva and Shakti. There are a few variations I’ve come across, but for some reason or another Shakti is not invited to her father, Daksha’s, celebration. She goes anyway. At some point her father disrespects her in a really big way. She is so upset she bursts into flames and dies. Shiva sees the whole thing happen. His rage at the purposeless death of his beloved cannot be contained. He summons the warrior Virabhadra, whose body arise from the molten lava beneath the earth. At Shiva’s command, he bursts through the earth’s crust and immediately strikes Daksha.
Some people hesitate to tell these traditional stories to children because they seem so violent. What we have to contemplate here is the benefit of being exposed to working with intense emotions. How do we cultivate skills for being in our society, if we are constantly hiding away and pushing away the difficult situations?
Going back to Shiva’s anger- what he was actually angry about was Daksha’s ignorance. In the story, Daksha represents logic, ritual precision, and hierarchical order. This embodiment is what caused him to fail to relate with his daughter Shakti as a human being. Shiva’s wrath destroyed ignorance, fear, and prejudice. It is a purifying rage which had no patience for a lack of genuineness. No patience for layering on concepts, conditions, and rules which prevent one from being awake and truly connecting with their present experience.
When we practice Virabhadrasana or Warrior Pose, we can practice recognizing the wisdom of our intense emotions. Perhaps our impulses to react are not wise, but is the emotion itself wise? Can we understand that anger often comes from deep clarity? That confused passion often comes from a longing to connect? When we stabilize ourselves in Warrior poses, we practice staying with whatever we feel. We are steady, connected, grounded. From this place we can see our impulses arise. We can choose not to scream or strike out. We can cultivate strength and integrity without pushing our emotions away.
We have a cultural understand of warriors in the West as aggressive, weapon-yielding, battle going people. In yoga, the true challenge of warriorship is being brave enough to be present with our current experience. Being present in life takes immense strength, extreme dedication, and a willingness to be vulnerable. Sometimes the present moment is painful, confusing, awkward, or otherwise unpleasant. Looking at ourselves we can see things we don’t like. Looking at others, we can see things we don’t like. But the more we practice staying even when it’s hard, the more we relax, and the less difficult it becomes. Like Virabhadra, we can open our hearts and accept what is happening. We must destroy our own fear and our own confusion.
There are many ways to practice this warriorship with the children in your lives. First of all, model it yourself. Take some time getting to know your own mind. Cultivate awareness of your emotional landscape. Be present. Second, spend time with your children that’s just for being there with them. Put away your iPhone, your computer, your to-do list, your dinner plans, and just be with them. It can be so fresh, so pure. Listen to what they are saying. Look at them as a human being with eyes that aren’t painting any assumptions of what you think you know about them. Finally, as a family, you can create an environment where it’s okay to feel strong emotions. You can find ways to talk about feelings together. Create a family meeting where it’s safe to express anger, sadness, frustration, or joy. Talk about different ways of working with each emotion. Use things like art, movement, or music to connect more to whatever is arising.
Ultimately, children are very open to their own experience, and very willing to show up with it. We can support that journey and help them stay open by giving them tools like yoga, meditation, and a strong family context in which to express themselves.
So next time you feel angry, think of Virabhadra and consider where your wisdom lies.