How often have you been to a yoga class and been asked to do poses that look like they are from Circque de Soliel? How often do you see photos of yogis in in poses that look like they are from the circus? Likely answers, respectively, are none and all the time.
On my registration form I ask people what they want from yoga and guess you how many people have written things like “So I can have some new party tricks”, “so I can get in for training at the elite yoga school in Pune” “so I can do backflips into the bath” “so I can make my kids think that I can float in mid-air” or “because I want to join the circus”?
Indeed chapter 3 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras discusses the powers got from yoga which include the ability to read other’s minds and the ability to become invisible. These probably mean something a lot more subtle like understanding your mind gives insight into another’s mind and meditating on the body resolves the feeling of being objectified, but that gets away from the mystery and excitement of the circus theme I am trying to build here and the mystery and excitement I think many try to build by posting photos of themselves on Instagram of their latest yoga achievement. My partner is always asking me why I want to learn how to do a handstand. He has a point, the arms and hands are not designed for standing on they are designed for reaching and doing fine motor tasks, but I love the sense of fun and excitement and lightness I get when I try to free stand on my hands and I need to continually challenge myself physically, emotionally and mentally, (although I am sure there a lots of other ways to do this…but don’t tell him that). The big risk we take with our yoga selfies on social media that show the world our latest achievement is that we are feeding the myth that yoga is about doing crazy circus tricks when what yoga is really is about is self-study, building greater awareness of your mind and body. A recent survey conducted in America on yoga participation in the USA, found that the reason people don’t do yoga is they think it is for young women or for those who are already flexible, fit or spiritual.
So back to my question, how many people wrote on the registration form that the reason for wanting to do yoga is that they want to join a circus and all those other reasons? Answer: zero. The truth is most people write things like wanting to de-stress, general health and well-being, better flexibility, better concentration, build strength and flexibility, “to get abs of steel” Achievable things for those of us who have a multitude of other responsibilities in life and do not have the time and luxury nor inclination to take our bodies and minds to extreme places. Yoga helps build a better awareness of ourselves and our limitations and hopefully teaches us to be more discerning -the courage to change the things we can, the acceptance of things we can not change and the wisdom to know the difference.
Finally here is a picture from my partner on what he thinks yoga is about …noting that he calls yoga Simon Says and has never done a class in his life. Interesting pose…I might try it in class sometime and invite him along..ha ha.