The Story of Adiśeṣa

We often talk about the concepts of sthira and sukham as they relate to the āsana practice. Sthira means firm, steady, stable, strong. Sukham means ease, comfort, relaxation, lightness. We want the āsana practice to be a balance of the two.

In yoga philosophy there is a lovely story that perfectly conveys the properties of sthira and sukham. It is the story of Adiśeṣa (Ah-dee-SHEH-shah), the first servant of Lord Vishnu.

Adiśeṣa is a thousand-headed giant cobra floating in a dark ocean called the Milky Ocean. He balances and stabilizes the entire universe on his hoods.

Adiśeṣa’s coiled body creates a bed upon which Lord Vishnu rests, and his hoods create a canopy over Vishnu.

In order for Adiśeṣa to create a stable, safe, and comfortable resting place for Vishnu, he must be in a state of balanced sthira and sukham.

But the coiled Adiśeṣa faces an additional challenge in creating this resting spot for Vishnu.

In Hindu mythology, each of the gods has a “vehicle” which is an animal that is responsible for their transportation. Lord Vishnu’s vehicle is Garuda, an eagle.

In the story of Adiśeṣa, Garuda is flying nearby, keeping an eye on Vishnu while he rests. Garuda the eagle and Adiśeṣa the cobra are not friends, and Garuda is annoying Adiśeṣa, so the presence of Garuda creates an additional challenge for Adiśeṣa in maintaining his sthira and sukham.

You can see how this is a good analogy to the āsana practice. Not only do we need to maintain a balance of stability and ease in the āsana, we must also maintain this balance in the face of extra challenges, for example a stressful day, an achy knee, a distraction, etc.

The beautiful Nagalinga flower is a symbol of the story of Adiśeṣa. The petals represent Adiśeṣa’s coiled body. The hooded part that extends upward represents Adiśeṣa’s one thousand hooded heads and protects the pale yellow part which symbolizes the resting Vishnu.

Next time you practice āsana, think of Adiśeṣa and try to replicate his balance of strength and ease.

Until next time,