In mid-March of 2017, I was trekking through Sagarmatha National Park on my way to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We stayed at a teahouse in Dingboche and my room was seperated from the dining room. After eating dinner and playing some card games with the rest of the group, I decided it was time to rest up for the next day. Without a flashlight or any other lamps, I stepped outside and was surprised at how bright it was. I stopped and looked up
Gasping in awe, I noticed layers and layers of white dots in this clear mountain sky. As a city gal, there are usually not many visible stars on an average night. My eyes scanned the heavens, I tried to search for something to make sense of it all, determining that some stars were shining brighter than others. I was looking for shapes that I could relate to. Orion and his belt was the first shape that stood out. Three bright stars in a row, floating in the middle of a trapezoid featuring the bright stars of Betelgeuse and Bigel. Then I realized that I don't know that much about the constellations or the names of stars...
How often do you pause and look up at the night sky?
Do you notice that the sky is endless with billions of swirling balls of fire?
Many ancient cultures would spend time mapping out the relationships of these stars according to our human eye, placing them on a single plane and connecting the dots. We call this map, constellations, a system for us humans here on earth to try to make sense of the vast space that extends out from earth in every direction.
Ancient yoga philosophers also pondered our relationship with the stars. In Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, he points out that gaining knowledge of the movement of the stars and solar systems can be included in meditation practice. Further, in Yoga sutra 3.41, he states, “Master the breath and your body will shine with the radiance of a star.”
To become more in touch with your own star-like qualities and radiance, I recommend the pranayama, breathing technique, called the Breath of Fire. To perform Breath of Fire, you can sit comfortably in sukhasana, or a more challenging position like Navasana (boat). With a strong and quick inhale through your nose, expand your entire core, and on a quick exhale through your nose, pull all of your muscles and organs inward, pushing the air out quickly. This high-energy exercise builds heat in your solar plexus chakra and activates a higher state of consciousness. Continue this breathing for a minimum of one minute, then build up to 3 minutes, 5 minutes, or even 10 minutes in the future. Set a timer or count each breath.
This technique not only strengthens and balances your nervous system, but as I learned from Tommy Rosen at the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, it also can help overcome addiction (when you practice this every time you are getting a craving), and helps to fight cancer and disease by allowing more healing oxygen into your system. Yes, this can be challenging, but it is through overcoming obstacles that we also overcome the ego, little by little. This part of ourselves wants to keep us from living a peaceful and happy life. I’ve recently incorporated this technique into part of my new morning meditation routine and I hope you will to.
To learn more life-enhancing breathing techniques, I highly recommend this beautiful and intricate book called, The Power of Breath: Yoga Breathing for Inner Balance, Health and Harmony by Swami Saradananda. She gives more detailed instructions on activating you inner fire and motivation as she calls this technique, Bellows Breath, Bhastrika, as well as techniques for boosting energy, reducing stress, and much more!
In the San Diego region of Southern California, a group of nomadic tribes have mapped out the stars into characters and shapes that they understand from this perspective on earth. They call this My Uuyow, meaning "sky knowledge". Kumeyaay sand paintings and rock art often modeled the passage of the sun, moon, and constellations.
In celebration of Earth Day, we can also note how the traditional Kumeyaay way of life made such remarkable use of the natural resources in their local area in present day San Diego County. They wove complicated baskets out of pine and willow to use for food preparation, storage, and even gifts. They used wooden sticks for hunting and shovels. Further, coiled pots were rolled from clay of the local streams and rivers for water storage and cooking.
The Kumeyaay also believe that the Kwellyap Ketull (North Star) at the center of the night sky keeps watch over all human activities. Often recognized as the Pole Star, or Polaris in much of the western world, many cultures look to this point as the guiding star of the night for navigation.
In Hatha Yoga Philosophy, we strive to find a balance in right and left, forward and back, as well as up and down. Likewise, the Kumeyaay constellation of Llykuushirra (known as Cassiopeia in the western world) meaning Racer Snake, with its red and black patterns, represents the masculine and feminine sides of things like the day and night, sun and the moon, and yang and yin.
Similarly, the Rattlesnake symbolizes the conveyer of punishment, for improper conduct. In yoga philosophy, we sometimes refer to this concept as karma. Positive thoughts and actions lead to positive results, and negative thoughts and actions lead to negative results.
Many of us are familiar with Orion and his belt, one of the most recognizable constellations in the night sky. The Kumeyaay people divided these dots into shapes of a Hunter (Kwechnyay) and the belt area into a Mountain sheep (Emuu), which represents following the right path in life, even though it may be more difficult. Emmu (Mountain Sheep) combined with the Shuluk (Lightening) mark the solstices.
To learn more about yoga poses that relate to the Kumeyaay Constellations, join us for a Women's Spiritual Weekend Retreat to Kumeyaay Lake Campground on June 9th-11th, 2017 for hiking, meditation, yoga, campfire discussions and more!