Happy birthday Dr. Seuss! Due to the snow day, I did not get the chance to fully honor his stories with their great ethics and moral messages in YOGA class. After reading many of Dr. Seuss’ books and collections of stories, I have become a firm believer that Dr. Seuss was a yogi himself. Many of his stories are built off of the eight limbs that comprise yoga.
1). Yamas (truth) and not taking things from others. This limb brings to mind Mayzie, the bird in the book Horton Hatches the Egg where Mayzie, the bird, goes on vacation while Horton (the big elephant) sits and sits on the nest waiting for the bird to hatch even though he must go overcome great obstacles such as being caught by the circus to keep the egg safe. Horton has a mantra (a statement repeated frequently so that the person at times starts to believe it):
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant…An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!”
When the egg finally hatches, Mayzie sweeps by and claims the hatchling as hers. The egg bursts apart and is an elephant-bird and Horton keeps the hatchling. This demonstrates not taking from others and “truth” telling, because Mayzie lied to the elephant, she was vacationing the whole time he sat on her nest. Not only does this story demonstrate this first limb, but it also provides a similar message as a sutra (a rule or aphorism part of a condensed manual or text) from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras:
Sutra: Ignorance, egoism (Mayzie demonstrates), attachment, hatred, and clinging to bodily life are the five obstacles (to growth and enlightenment).
We saw Horton’s devotion despite obstacles help the elephant-bird to be safe and hatch!
Sutra: The practice of concentration on a single object is the best way to prevent obstacles and their accompaniements.
We see Horton completely being faithful and concentrating on saving the egg and he overcomes obstacles such as being taken by the circus! And the egg is safe! He continues to recite his mantra “I meant what I said and I said what I meant…An elephant’s faithful one hundred percent!”
2). Niyamas (focus on contentment, endurance, devotion, and self-study) Again look at the Horton the elephant’s faithful and devotional character in both stories: Horton Hears a Who and in Horton Hatches an Egg. Horton never gives up on protecting the egg and is devoted and content to do his job. Just as he never gives up on saving the small village of the whos even though nobody in the jungle hears them and they think that Horton is crazy and are mean. Horton brings together the whos to make sure that they are heard, and the whos show their endurance with their repeated outcries until they are finally hear and acknowledged as living creatures. What also must be pointed out hear is Dr. Seuss’ tremendous love of ALL living creatures including the whos, and all of nature that is at risk in The Lorax. Dr. Seuss was devoted to living creatures just as he was devoted to relaying moralistic messages closely connected with yoga sutras and the 8 yoga limbs to children! What devotion!
3). Asana – asanas are the movement limb of yoga and about bodily awareness. Individuals become attuned (aware and connect with) to their body and breathing. Doing yoga as a group (yoga = union) can create a community based on compassion, empathy, devotion, and contentment. Dr. Seuss shows how in Yertle the Turtle, Yertle the Turtle neglects to listen to the aches and pains of the turtles that he has forced to stack up in order to make him a taller throne. He is not attuned to the poor tutrle Mack at the very bottom! He is selfish (not selfless as yoga teaches us) and wants to be taller and taller. Dr. Seuss than shows Yertle’s disappointment as he realizes that he is not higher than the moon! At this point Mack burps and sends the stack of turtles tumbling down and Yertle landing in the muddy pond, where he becomes King of the Mud.
This great story teaches us a lot and is also heavily tied to the sutra below:
Sutra – Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent, the impure as pure, the painful as pleasant, and the Non-Self as the Self.
Yertle ignores the clear fact that the turtles cannot remain stacked forever (they get hungry, achy, they are living creatures!) He ignores the pain of his fellow turtles whom he rules over and just remarks on his increasingly “pleasant” view as the throne gets higher and higher with each turtle stacking. Yertle also shows complete disregard for the “non-self.” To him, the stack of turtles (the “non-self”) is just part of HIM and HIS THRONE!
As always, Dr. Seuss demonstrates how ignorance, lack of empathy, untruthfulness, and being mean to others never works to achieve a goal and Yertle becomes King of the Muddy Pond with no views (just as Mayzie the bird did not hatch a bird, but Horton hatched the prized posession from the egg).
4). Pranayama – breathing, vitality – The best example of this limb is in the way Horton makes the whos energize as much as they can and challenges their vitality in order to live. The whos breathe and exhale as much noise as they can in a fight to be heard and they are heard! Another example of this is in The Lorax when all of the Truffala Trees are cut down and other living creatures in the natural community are plagued by polluted air and robbed of food and shade provided from the trees.
5). Pratyahra – This limb challenges the individual to explore their inner world. Horton challenges in Horton Hears a Who to the kangaroo and others to just listen and imagine that there is another group of people. Keep an open mind. There may be a whole world that is not part of the world that you are living in.
6 + 7). Dharana and Dhyana – (often interchangeable) – This limb has to do with meditation – This is the “time out” that we all need from our thoughts. This is the meditative limb of yoga. Dr. Seuss challenges all of us to think, for example in his book Oh, the Places You’ll Go. But he also challenges us to focus on others and to “move mountains:” this takes devotion, endurance, focus, and often the a meditative work that enables individuals to achieve goals.
8). Samadhi – This limb refers to ultimate bliss. Well, who wouldn’t want to live in one of Dr. Seuss’ magical places!!!!!!!!!!
There are many more examples where the yoga sutras and the 8 limbs of yoga directly relate to the stories and messages of many of Dr. Seuss’ stories. Whether he was a yogi or not we may never know, but his stories and messages to children demonstrate the strong yoga guru that he may have been! And I will leave you with a fun link to do with your children that is to be read to the rhythm of Green Eggs and Ham.