Reconciling images of barely clothed, ash-covered men in India with pictures of the $100 yoga pants–wearing crowd is enough to give a yogi an identity crisis.
Who are the “real” yogis? Are they living alone in a cave, renouncing all earthly comforts? Or are they the spandex-clad who spend the equivalent of a monthly mortgage payment on yoga retreats, classes, and trainings?
To navigate where we fit in, and reconcile our relationship to abundance, we look to Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune and generosity.
In one tale, a wise but humble-looking sage made an offering of a modest garland to King Indra. The arrogant king carelessly tossed the dusty garland aside, not realizing that it represented Lakshmi and all that was happy and beautiful in the world.
Lakshmi did not appreciate the King’s rudeness and left the universe (although generous, Lakshmi has no patience for attitudes).
With Lakshmi’s absence, a scarcity fell upon the world. Trees and plants didn’t bloom. People became destitute. There wasn’t enough food, and the water in the lakes and rivers dried up. As the situation grew dire, people became angry, their compassion for others gone. The world transformed into a material and spiritual wasteland.
To bring abundance, beauty, and kindness back, Lord Vishnu gathered all of the demons and the gods and ordered them to churn the ocean until Lakshmi returned. Finally after great effort, the stunning goddess reemerged on a lotus blossom accompanied by two elephants spraying water, representing the power of effort and purity.
Material and spiritual prosperity entered the universe again.
The myth of Lakshmi teaches us that effort + purpose = material and spiritual abundance.
It isn’t possible or practical for most of us today to leave all of our responsibilities to meditate alone on a mountaintop. But we can combine our efforts with our purpose to gain abundance in our lives and in our communities—not just abundance in terms of money or things, but abundance in all areas of our life like relationships, health, career, and happiness.
There are many role models of dharma-driven generosity today.
Oprah isn’t just known for her favorite things (“And YOU get a new car! And YOU get a new car!”), but also for using her voice to educate the public about meditation and spirituality. Seane Corn has taken her role as a leading yoga teacher to create Off the Mat, Into the World, a program for yogis to engage in local service projects. Donna Karan has turned her passion for helping people with cancer into the Urban Zen Integrative Therapy Program.
In other words, when we cultivate the energy of Lakshmi, we use our abundance (our gifts, our skills, and our efforts) to enrich the lives of others.
“Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”
― Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose
On the mat, practice gratitude for the abundance in your life in Child’s Pose.
Bring your big toes to touch and your knees wide. Fold your torso over your knees, arms outstretched, palms down. Let the space between your eyebrows (your “third eye”) roll gently back and forth on the mat or a block, cultivating your ability to see things from a bigger perspective. Breathe in deeply, letting the back of your body rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Consciously feel a sense of gratitude for all that is plentiful in your life and in your relationships.
For more comfort, place a rolled up blanket or towel under the hips, knees or ankles as needed.