Many stories are told in the Mahabharata of Bhishma, the son of a great king and also a yogi, a learned man and a great warrior. This particular story tells how Bhishma, unparalleled in the noble the art of archery was himself shot through by arrows as he fought in battle. As he fell, his whole body was held above ground by the shafts of these arrows, which protruded from his back and through his arms and legs. Bhishma was suspended this way for 40 days.

B.K.S. Iyengar tells us that Bhishma was kept alive for so long most likely because of the strategic positioning — similar to acupuncture points; behind the heart, at the coccyx — of the arrows.

Bishma meditated as he transitioned in a timely and dignified manner from the manifest world to the un-manifest, eternal world. Seeing Bhishma laid out on such a bed of arrows humbled even the gods who watched from the heavens in reverence, silently blessing the mighty warrior.

I taught Bhishmasana as part of a restorative workshop at the Maha Padma Temple, Union Square, New York. Restorative yoga teaches us to be in the asana longer and penetrate deeper. It allows us to be to become familiar with a deeper level of internal practice and it prepares us for pranayama.

Bishma surrendered to his fate, which although already ordained by Krishna, was not violent. Stretched out on our yogis’ “bed of nails” and suspended in time, we surrendered to the moment, completely supported and utterly at peace.

Practice this pose and see how it makes you feel. The student, whose feet were placed apart on separate blocks and belted to stop them flopping out, said  she felt as if she were floating. After this picture was taken I lowered the blocks under her arms which helped create more space in her chest.

It’s a wonderfully cooling pose in the hot weather!

A modified version of this pose is often given in the medical classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), Pune, India, to help those with heart problems.


Photo by my host at Maha Padma Temple, Veronica Alicia Perretti

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7 Responses to “Bhishma”

  1. Claus Wittig Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Always like your inspirational articles. Kindly Claus

  2. yogimarcia Says:

    Republicou isso em IYENGAR YOGA BLOG.

  3. Bob Gilbo Says:

    Wonderful way to weave the teachings of the Mahabharata into asana practice, Bobbi! Some other aspects of Bhisma’s backstory that inform the grace and surrender of this pose are these: he had been granted a boon in exchange for his vow of celibacy that he would be able to choose his moment of death, which he accepted gracefully at the hands of the warrior who first shot him, Sikhandi (who had switched genders and whom Bishma knew to be born a woman, so, being a ksatriya, he chose not to harm her). Further, he used his time on his bed of arrows to instruct Yudhishthira (the future Pandava ruler) on the qualities of dharmic leadership (even though Yudhishthira fought with the opposing army.) Stories within stories…
    Thanks for your teaching!

  4. Yunice Chng Says:

    Thanks for sharing. I did this posture in a workshop that i have attended. I am not sure why my tears dropped non stop once in this posture. I really curious why I had this reaction.

    • bobbyclennell Says:

      I am not sure either why this make you weep. Something deep inside of yourself – an old memory, maybe from a past life – was triggered. I think your tears were a cleansing.

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