Progressing slowly in my attempts to master vrschikasana (scorpion pose), I was reminded of the ancient fable involving the scorpion and the frog.
As you may or may not recall the frog went against its better judgment to offer the scorpion a lift across the pond after securing the deadly critter’s assurances that wouldn’t sting the frog because,
“if I sting you, we’ll both go down.”
It made sense.
Practically speaking, so the story goes, when they were halfway across the pond the scorpion reverted to its true evil nature and stung the frog to death — killing them both.
The moral was that it’s impossible to change your true nature.
This seems like quite an absolute, puritanical view of the world characteristics of the prevalent thinking of the time.
The philosophies of yoga shows us matters are not always so predetermined.
In asana practice generally, there seems to be no other place more appropriate to change your nature — to bring out your best qualities — and, in scorpion pose, by inverting your orientation and fully bending into your back, all the while balancing on your palms and forearms, you’re getting pretty close to turning yourself inside out.
At the Andiappan School of Yoga, I was taught the correct warm-up postures for scorpion include completing chakrasana (wheel pose) at least three times.
Beyond the physical preparation, I like to think this also has deep meaning on a philosophical level.
According to Yogachara and Tibetan schools of Buddhism, the wheel of dharma was turned on three occasions when the Buddha’s teachings were being passed down to new audiences. Firstly, during the teaching of the four noble truths pertaining to the existence of suffering and happiness; a second time when he spoke about emptiness and compassion, or the ideas of becoming and co-dependent arising; and finally when it was revealed that buddha nature was inherent in all beings.
Obviously there are different interpretations and applications of the concept of the wheel of dharma, spanning from Buddhism to Hinduism and beyond, but I believe the three turnings are particularly relevant in the context of the scorpion, the toad, and yoga.
In this story, the scorpion and frog were being punished because they didn’t act skillfully. Succumbed to their selfish nature — laziness in the case of the scorpion and a lack of conviction in the case of the frog — they both paid the ultimate price.
Collectively, everyone suffered because they weren’t responsible for their own karma.
If the frog had stuck up for itself, and rejected the scorpion’s pleas it wouldn’t have drowned at the bottom of the lake. In taking such a stand, it would have highlighted the shortcomings of the scorpion, who, being forced to take stock of the situation, would realise that it’ll never get anywhere by taking the easy way out.
A creature as powerful and feared as the scorpion shouldn’t rely on the assistance of weak creatures like the frog.
Importantly, it suffers most when it depends on others.
It should cast out on its own and find strength in isolation.
I think it’s important to remember these ideals as we venture down the path. It’ll ensure we don’t stray when things get tough or when we find an easy way out. Obstacles should really only make us work harder.
In my own case, I know that soon enough I can no longer rely on the wall to support my nascent scorpion pose. It’s already getting to a point where it’s no longer helping me, but holding me back. Eventually I’ll have to take the leap of faith and just attempt it on my own and have faith that I can carry it through on my own merits. Even if I don’t, at least I would’ve learned some valuable lessons because my intentions were pure. Ultimately, that’s the only way to find resilience in the practice. One that will endure for a lifetime.
At the ripe old age of 30, Mahesh retired from his elected profession of journalism (and shelved his ambitions to write the great American novel) in order to pursue his true calling as a practitioner and teacher of yoga in all its eight-limbed glory.