In ancient times there was a demonic ruler named Hiranyakashipu. He gained his power by standing on his toes for 100 years after which time Brahma had no choice but to grant him a wish. Hiranyakashipu wished for immortality, but because Brahma himself was mortal he could not grant this. So, Hiranyakashipu wished instead that he would not be killed in the night or in the day, inside or outside, not in the sky or on the ground. Further he wished not to be killed by any weapon or any being created by Brahma. After this wish was granted, he became the ruler of the three worlds- heavenly, middle and hellish.
Hiranyakashipu ruled with violence against all demigods and sages, and there was much suffering. They finally went to see Vishnu to ask for his protection. Vishnu promised to kill Hiranyakishipu if he went after his son Prahlad. Prahlad had learned yoga while in his mother’s womb as she was being instructed by her teacher and was himself quite saintly. When Hiranyakishipu sent Prahlad to demon teachers, Prahlad did not like the teachings. Between lessons he explained to his classmates the science of yoga. They lost interest in demonic ways as well, much to the distress of the teachers.
When Prahlad was home, his father, Hiranyakashipu, asked him about the best thing he had learned so far. Prahlad answered that he felt it best to renounce home and kingdom and go to the forest to practice yoga and meditate on Vishnu. Enraged, Hiranyakishipu ordered his followers to kill his son. The followers were uncomfortable with this as Prahlad was only a boy, but their fear of Hiranyakashipu was a great motivator. They gave him poison, which didn’t work. They threw him in a ditch, attacked him with spears, threw him in a fire and attempted to starve him. Prahlad, protected by Vishnu, lived on. The followers brought him back to his father. As Prahlad stood before his father with hands in namaste mudra, Hiranyakashipu demanded to know why his son did not fear him the way others did. Prahlad explained that all strength comes from God and that the only real foe we have is the uncontrolled mind. The six afflictions of the mind- kama (lust), kroda (anger), lobha (greed), moha (delusion), mada (envy) and matsarya (laziness) are the real enemies. He told his father that only the ignorant believe others to be their enemy. He went on to tell his father that God was everywhere.
“Then why do I not see him in the pillar?” demanded Hiranyakashipu. Prahlad answered
“I see him in this pillar”. Hiranyakashipu then gave a powerful blow to the pillar. A terrible roaring sound came then as a mighty lion emerged. Narasimha fought with Hiranyakashipu for a while and then easily killed him. To honor Brahma’s promise, he did this neither at night nor in the day, but at dusk; neither inside or outside the house, but on the threshold; neither in the sky nor on the ground, but in Hiranyakashipu’s own lap. By killing Hiranyakashipu, Narasimha killed the six enemies of the mind that stand in our way of liberation. Narasimha is known the be one who takes away obstacles on the path to devotion.
Prahlad was able to understand that there were no demons in a definitive way. He recognized that the light of divinity existed in all, whether they chose to recognize it or not. By taking the pose Simhasana we are reminded of the fearlessness we need on the path of yoga and the fearlessness we develop through our practice. *
To take simhasana, kneel on the floor and cross the front of one ankle over the back of the other. Press the palms against the thighs and spread the fingers out. Breath in deeply through the nose and then open the mouth wide, allow your gaze to fall on the third eye and let out a loud ha sound on your exhalation. Do this two or three times and then cross the legs the other way and repeat. This pose is said to help conquer bad breath. It aloso relieves tension in the chest and face and it also helps to stimulate the platysma, a thin flat muscle on the front of the throat. This muscle pulls down on the corners of the mouth and wrinkles the neck when contracted. When we practice simhasana it keeps this muscle firm, which is helpful for reducing signs or aging.
*This version of the story of Simhasana is told in the book Myths of the Asanas by Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij