Learning History Through Yoga
This past April, my parents invited me and my brother on a cruise through the Galapagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavor. On the second night we anchored off of Isla Espanola, also known as Hood Island. The island is famous as an albatross breeding ground. As a maritime attorney and local Hood River history buff, the island was significant to me.
In addition to being an attorney, I am also the president of a nonprofit historic cemetery. Buried at the cemetery is the county’s founder, Nathaniel Coe. Mr. Coe was from a prominent New Jersey family and studied law. He became a successful merchant and put his law degree to use in the New York state Legislature where he served for many terms. Eventually, he was elected state auditor (treasurer) and came to know all of the most famous politicians of his day. President Filmore took notice and offered him the position of special post master in Oregon. When his appointment expired he got a land grant for property along the Columbia River. After he died, he was buried in the cemetery that I manage, hence my interest in Hood River history.
After our yoga class, I tried to explain to our health and wellness crewmember that Hood Island was named after the same man that Mt. Hood was named after. She was from Ecuador and her English was not very good, so I tried explaining it to her with yoga, using the Sanskrit terms I had learned from my swami I knew she would understand to explain where the name came from and the history of Hood River.
The first thing I said was tadasana, or mountain pose, with my feet together and hands at my side and told her that Mt. Hood was 12,480 feet above sea level.
Next, I said urdhua hastasana, or upward salute, putting both hands together and above my head to indicate that Mt. Adams, which is 500 feet taller than Hood, is just to the North.
Next I moved into the warrior pose (virabhadrasana), with my arms out stretched and one leg bent. I told her that Mt. Hood was named after Admiral Hood, who later became a parliamentarian and supporter of the explorers and traders who lived in Fort Vancouver who named the mountain after the admiral.
Then I got down into the plank pose, or upright push up pose, to explain that Admiral Hood developed a naval military strategy called crossing the line.
I stood up sideways to her and got into the archer pose (akarna dhanurasana), with one hand pointed forward and the other pulled back behind my ear as if holding a bow and arrow, then bending my front leg with my back leg straight to explain that instead of lining up across from one another and firing broadsides, Hood’s theory was to cross the enemy’s line and fire his broadsides at the defenseless bows and sterns of the enemy.
I then moved to triangle, or utthita trikonasana pose, by straightening my legs and spreading my arms while bending to one side, invoking the image of the triangular sails on the sailing ships of the era.
From there I moved to hero, or virasana pose, kneeling on the floor and sitting on my feet. I told her that at the battle of Trafalgar, Lord Admiral Nelson, with his British fleet’s superior sail handling skills, successfully crossed the Spanish line and defeated the armada using Hood’s strategy, making Great Britain the most powerful navy in the world for hundreds of years.
Ecuador also calls its navy the armada. Knowing something of Spanish history, my wellness instructor understood the significance of the battle of Trafalgar. With the help of Sanskrit and yoga, she now also understood the importance of Admiral Hood and why the British would name an island after him. We also had a nice little work out.
Currently, I am working with Flow Yoga Studio in downtown Hood River to develop these poses into a routine for the Hood River History Museum’s winter program. The Hood River History Museum has expressed interest in using it to host classes in their newly expanded building. It is a healthy way to start the day and a great way for people to learn about the history of our state, just as I taught the yoga instructor aboard the Endeavor while anchored off Hood Island. Perhaps you have a story about Washington history or law that can be expressed in Sanskrit. If so, I’m sure your local historical society would be interested, just as mine was in Hood River.