The Mythology Behind Agnistambhasana (Fire Log Pose)
In the Rig Veda, fire is personified as Agni (which has the same root as our word “ignite”). Agni is said to be present in the fire of the sun, in the stars, the lightning. He is in the digestive fire in our bellies and in the pillar of smoke that links us with the gods and this world with the next.
Agni is said to be present in the fire of the sun, in the stars, the lightning.
The ritual of “building a fireplace” was the centerpiece of ancient Vedic civilization. Fire is the agent of sacrifice and transformation, and the sacred fire altar was a portal between the worlds, a threshold place where prayers and sacrificial offerings could pass from earth to heaven and blessings could descend from heaven to earth—all through the medium of the fire (agni) and its logs (stambha). Many mythological stories feature fire, sacrifice, and the results of its correct or incorrect execution.
One story concerns Queen Sita, who was held hostage in Ravana's palace during the Ramayana war. Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka, kidnapped Sita, Lord Rama's wife, and tried to force her into his harem. Sita eluded his advances and safeguarded her virtue by remaining outside the palace under a tree in constant view of women guards, and was never alone with Ravana. When she returned, evil-minded people accused her of having collaborated intimately with her captor. Sita called for a fire ritual to prove her innocence and purity and to reestablish trust and balance in the kingdom. The logs were laid and the ritual was followed, but when she prepared to enter the fire the flames drew back; Sita was a goddess, too pure and powerful for them to touch. Agni himself appeared to protect and vouch for her.
The Himalayan tradition teaches the path of agni vidya, the understanding that our own individual bodies are vehicles of liberation. From this perspective, the body is a living altar of the sacred fire, and the physical world contains all the tools and means that we need to discover heaven.
How might it change your practice if you approached each session as a sacred offering?
Yoga practice is an art, just as building a fire is an art. For both, the foundation must be firm, dry, and well-situated. The logs and kindling—that is, your yoga mat and props—must be intelligently prepared and properly aligned. How might it change your practice if you approached each session as a sacred offering and an opportunity for transformation?
Sit on the smooth edge of a small stack of folded blankets with your knees bent and your feet on the floor in a simple cross-legged position. Distribute your weight evenly between your right and left sides. On an inhale, shrug your shoulders up, roll them back, and rest your hands in your lap. If you feel a sense of “drag” in the shoulders, place a folded blanket across your lap to support your forearms and hands. Lift all your ribs evenly. Draw your navel in and up, and lengthen your front body from just above the pubis to just below the sternum.
Next, slide your left foot under your right leg. Flex your left foot, and place the little-toe side on the floor. Begin conservatively, respecting your knees' possible limitations by placing your left foot close to your right sitting bone. Now use your hands to lift your right shin: hold the right knee with your right hand and place your left hand under your flexed right foot. Bring your whole lower leg across, as if it were one piece from knee to ankle, and stack the right ankle above the left knee. Keep the outer edge of you right foot parallel with the floor (don't sickle the foot).
Assess the Stability of This Foundation
- How are your knees? If your hips are fairly flexible, work your bottom (left) foot forward until it is directly under your right knee and your shins are stacked parallel to the floor like two logs of wood. If this action strains your knee, keep your bottom foot back, closer to your right sitting bone.
- Is there space between your top knee and the foot it's resting on? If so, add support—a block or blanket between the knee and the foot (or the knee and the floor if your foot is back) to make the pose more comfortable and steady.
- Are both knees lifted off the floor? If so, you may need to sit on more height or add blankets under both knees. Think of these props as the kindling material that helps your fire burn smoothly and brightly.
From here, press you outer heels down. Do you feel your hips opening? Spread your toes and keep your feet active. Do you feel your breath rising and chest lifting? Let the crown of your head rise like the tip of a flame. Rest your arms and hands calmly in your lap. Breathe. Fire is never static; the flames rise and fall. Watch your breath as if you were watching those flames.
Now, keeping your front body ascending, exhale and fold at your hip creases. Reach your hands and arms forward along the floor in front of you. Snuggle your sit bones back and lengthen the sides of your waist. Soften your belly and enjoy the comforting sense of light pressure against your abdomen. Rest your arms and hands on the ground. Keep your neck long and soft, and relax your face and jaw.
Do you feel a stretch in your outer hips? If so, that's good, but respect any signs of strain in your knees. Stay in the forward bend for a minute or so. Feel free to stay longer if you are comfortable and breathing quietly and evenly. To come out of the pose, use the strength of your arms to lift your torso. Uncross your legs, and then repeat on the second side.
Benefits of Fire Log Pose
Physical benefits of fire log pose include stretching and opening the hips and groins, stimulating the abdominal organs and calming the mind.
Ayurveda teaches that the digestive fire (also called agni) is located at the navel center, and the gentle stimulation of the forward bend, coupled with deep smooth breathing, helps us to assimilate and transform the “fuel” which we consume as food and sensory input.
Contemplations for Agnistambhasana
What are you taking into your body physically? Emotionally? How does your practice help you to “digest” or transform it? Are there things your body does not easily accept?
Put yourself in Sita's place for a moment. Have you ever been falsely accused? Sita was willing to sacrifice herself for the good of the kingdom, but once she embraced the process of a trial by fire, it became unnecessary. Remember a time when you were prepared to undergo such a test, only to have cosmic forces align themselves in your defense.
What sacrifices do you make for the sake of your yoga practice?
Sacrifice involves giving up something treasured for a higher purpose. What cherished objects or behaviors have you given up, willingly or maybe not so willingly, for the sake of something or someone even more important to you? What sacrifices do you make for the sake of your yoga practice? How do you feel that your practice is transforming you? What does it mean to experience your body as a vehicle of liberation—an altar?
Open your journal to write a few responses to these questions, and may your creative fire burn brightly!
Zo Newell, Ph.D., ERYT 500, was introduced to yoga as a child by Dr. Rammurti Mishra (Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati). She earned her Ph.D. in religious studies from Vanderbilt University in 2011, with a dissertation on goddess images as a unifying cultural symbol for India's emerging national identity. She is the author of the award-winning book Downward Dogs and Warriors: Wisdom Tales for Modern Yogis (Himalayan Insitute, 2007). A former hospital chaplain and trauma counselor, Zo was a regular... Read more>>