by Richard Merrill
Dasti Yoga is a spiritual practice of devotion through craft and art, as well as other handwork. The word dasti means “of the hand, or pertaining to the hand.” It is associated with kriya yoga, or karma yoga, of which there are many variants. Lekh Raj Puri defines Dasti Yoga as yoga “with the hands,” in such activities as the telling of rosary beads, as well as in the handcrafts and trades. Dasti yoga can involve any activity with the hands, from washing dishes to playing a violin sonata. It is the remembering of God while performing good and useful actions. Its relationship to karma yoga is in the performing of actions as worship, without any desire for benefit or reward.
Sri Swami Satchidananda quotes a Hindu saying, ‘ “Man me Ram, hath me kam.” “There is work in the hand, but Ram [God] in the mind.”
This is the state of one who has realized the goal of Dasti yoga.
One example of an ancient Dasti practice is Dasti Attam, or dasi attam, sacred temple dancing once performed as worship in southern India by devadasis, or “servants of God”.
Indira dasi, a classical dancer and authority on the history of the dance arts in India, writes in Classical Indian Temple Dance that the devas or demi-gods were sent to earth by their father to perform drama and dance in order to lift a curse that had been placed upon them. They founded the arts as they are known today. This is the mythic origin of the Indian classical dance form Bharatha Natyam, widely recognized as India’s national dance.
Worship with the body is an ancient tradition. The devadasis were dedicated or “married” to a temple well before puberty; they led lives of celibacy and devotion to their religion. Sometime after the eleventh century, the pure devadasi tradition was lost. The term Dasti as applied to temple dance possibly referred to the hand gestures that are a striking feature of Bharatha Natyam. These gestures, known as hastas or mudras, were almost certainly an important part of temple dance, based on their antiquity and their essential status in Bharatha Natyam today. The hasta-mudras of this classical dance encompass as many as five hundred meanings.
Yoga, as many will know, can be translated as “union.” The word meaning “yoke” is its root, which itself is based on a word meaning “to join.” The original goal of yogic practices is self-realization, or union with the Divine Self. The Divine Self is seen in mystical practice as a drop of the ocean of the Supreme Being. The drop is made of the same stuff as the ocean. Thus Self-realization is the same as God-realization. The endeavor of Self-realization requires practical action, of which Yoga is the framework. Meditation is the form of worship of a yogic practitioner. The hatha yoga we know today is a result of a long history of meeting the needs of the body and mind to support a life of meditation.
Dasti yoga is a specific form of yogic spiritual practice. It is a personal practice in which handwork or art are performed consciously in a way that keeps the awareness of the craftsperson or artist on the divine source of the craft, the materials, and the person. Dasti yoga is worship with the hands (craft and visual art) or the body (as in dance).
Susan Barrett Merrill, the founder of Weaving a Life, and the author of ZATI: The Art of Weaving a Life, with her Weaving a Life process of weaving seven keyforms or elemental forms in a sequence of exploration, has described a process that is essentially a path to Dasti Yoga. Weaving a Life is a conscious practice of increasing personal awareness of the relationship of inner life and outer action, through the conscious creation of elemental forms. The keyforms are the amulet, bowl, doll, belt of power, mask, sacred bundle, and shawl. Each has a mytho-historical context and ancient associations, allowing the maker to discard preconceptions and allow the form to speak on a deeper level.
The therapeutic value of Weaving a Life is evidenced by the number of psychiatrists and psychologists who have sought Weaving a Life credentials to use it in their own practice, the use of the Weaving a Life process in schools for students at risk, and the publication of articles on Weaving a Life in three issues of Voices, the journal of the American Academy of Psychotherapists. The Weaving a Life process can sweep aside emotional barriers to deeper consciousness, and enable one to commit to a spiritual practice.
Weaving a Life is a structured process in which the structure supports creativity and individuality, rather than constricting them. It provides a template for ways to choose conscious living and to shed internal blocks in the process, through work with the hands. Weaving a Life recognizes the unique relationship between the mind, heart, and hand in grounding our spiritual awareness in our daily life.