From Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Dandayamana Dhanurasana or Standing Bow Pose

‘he seemed entirely at his ease; preserving the utmost serenity; content with his own companionship; always equal to himself. Surely his was a touch of fine philosophy; though no doubt he had never heard there was such a thing as that. But, perhaps, to be a true philosopher, we mortals should not be conscious of so living or so striving.’

Queequeg, the expert harpoonsman and classic ‘noble savage’ has to be the best character in Moby Dick. He represents many traits yogis would admire – he is fearless, focused and uncomplaining, with ‘courage and great skill’. He walks his own path and does not care what others think, yet is selfless and unceasingly generous, and always dives to the rescue of his fellow whalers, at great personal risk. He exists in the present – although he is supposedly one day planning to return to his tribespeople, he seems pretty zen about just hanging out on white men’s whaling boats, and perfecting his harpoon skills. He seems contemplative and reflective, he fasts and meditates ‘squatting on his arms’. Even his tribal tattoos wouldn’t look out of place in a hipster power yoga class today.

There is a paradox in yoga which can be hard to resolve, about trying as hard as you can, not giving up and coping with what you consider to be pain – but on the other hand not being competitive, with yourself or others, and not turning your yoga into another compulsion or obsession, or stick to beat yourself with for being inadequate. ‘Take the ambition out of the posture’, as one of my teachers says. Queequeg seems to have exactly understood this; he reveres the sea and whales, and is not competing with anyone; and almost because of his absence of neuroses, he is more focused on the task in hand and extremely successful; very much in contrast to Ahab, whose quest for the whale becomes an all-consuming and ultimately tragic obsession.

Dandayamana Dhanurasana with its outstretched arm and strong pull forward, to me looks a lot like a whaler with a harpoon. Yet more than that I think it is an asana which really exemplifies how you must find the balance between enthusiasm and serenity and acceptance; you will only balance when you find the tipping point where the front of your body is exactly weighted by your leg behind you. Excitedly throwing yourself too far forward and you fall forwards – too cautious and you won’t reach the balance point. It is a tough balance and you need that pure concentration on the present moment – just like the moment when Queequeg’s harpoon is launched.

With special thanks to Trygve Wakenshaw – yogi, Moby Dick fan and mime extraordinaire. Go and see him: http://www.trygvewakenshaw.net/