Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles

As January comes to a close and New Year’s resolutions begin to lose steam, helpful advice abounds: Use positive affirmations. Visualize a successful outcome. Find a workout buddy. Good suggestions, all of them. But how about calling on the ultimate “workout buddy”—a supreme being and the master of kundalini energy? If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about that great yogi known as Lord Ganesha

An elephant-headed boy with a potbelly, Ganesha is beloved in India but also recognized in many other cultures, where he is commonly associated with prosperity and success. Ganesha, known as the remover of obstacles, is called upon at the beginning of every new venture, making him an ideal ally for sticking to New Year’s resolutions. For those on the yogic path, stories and symbolism relating to Ganesha are layered with meaning. Perhaps the best-known Ganesha tale in the West (thanks in part to MC Yogi’s brilliant hip-hop) describes how he got his elephant head:

While preparing for her bath, Shiva’s consort Parvati created Ganesha and instructed him to guard the entrance to her home. When Shiva returns to find a stranger at the gate, he challenges him and cuts off his head. Stricken by Parvati’s grief, Shiva sends his “Om boys,” the Ganas, into the forest, where they find the head of an elephant to place on the boy’s body so that he can be reanimated. The story is a metaphor for cutting off ego (the head), our greatest obstacle on the spiritual path.

Ganesha earned the name Ganapati (Lord of the Ganas) for winning a race around the cosmos, a feat he accomplished while riding a mouse. The mouse represents the microcosm or “small self” that we must learn to rein in order to progress on the spiritual path. Look closely at depictions of Ganesha for other inspirational lessons: His tusk, broken while battling a demon, symbolizes self-sacrifice. His trunk is a reminder to be discriminating—it is quite a process for an elephant to select something, pick it up, and carry it to the mouth. Ganesha’s large belly represents the ability to digest all that life brings, good and bad. He raises one hand in the gesture of fearlessness, abhaya mudra, and in another he offers a plate of sweets, the promise of spiritual reward.

Songs, from traditional bhajans to Western-style kirtan, celebrate Ganesha’s expansive qualities. His mantra is Om gam ganapataye namah. As the guardian at the gate, Ganesha is associated with Muladhara, the first or root chakra, which guards the gate of the body and is symbolized by a square. The square is also Ganesha’s yantra, a geometric form used in meditative practices as a way of tuning into Ganesha’s frequency or energy. A way to embody Ganesha’s great strength and fearlessness is through asana that emphasizes the root chakra and square geometrics, such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).

In the West, Ganesha has become one of the most recognized deities among Hinduism’s rich and colorful pantheon, yet many Western yogis may find it alien to turn to an elephant-headed boy for help. An easier way to befriend Ganesha is to focus on the energy he represents, the macrocosmic field of intelligence and the ability to pierce through doubt and illusion.

When your resolutions start to slip, who are you going to call?

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