So, here I am minding my own business, taking advantage of the awesome summer sun, practicing on the cliffs in Santa Monica. Runners run by, bikers bike, strollers stroll…and then there’s this one random guy who feels it is very important to take it upon himself, come over to me, yell that “That’s not yoga, you know!” and then continue along his merry way.
Now, I don’t know who this maharishi thought he was, interrupting my personal practice on one hand, and thinking himself the ultimate authority on yoga on the other, but on the off-chance that he is reading this post, let me set the record straight.
Yoga, literally translated, means yoke. To yoke together. As in, yoke together your mind, your body and your spirit.
Yoga does not have to take any particular form. It doesn’t have to be asana, or meditation, or sava/selfless service. Yoga can be running, writing, eating. Honestly, yoga can be picking your nose.
Any time your mind, body, and spirit are aligned with a singular intention, you are practicing yoga.
But let’s take it out of the esoteric and into the concrete. Let’s assume that this guru of yoga knowledge and spirituality was right…and only asana qualifies as real yoga.
First of all, I will concede that the ancient robed monks who invented this practice were not doing so in adho mukha vrksasana (Downward Facing Tree, i.e. Handstand). In fact, most accounts point to the fact that handstands are a relatively modern-day yoga practice borrowed from gymnasts perhaps around the turn of the 20th century.
But…here’s why I will defend my beloved yoga handstands to the death….
When someone is practicing handstands (or any truly challenging posture, really), his or her mind is 100% focused on the task at hand. If it isn’t, the pose will fail, the practitioner will fall, and the practice will completely fall apart.
And for those who believe that easier and simpler hatha yoga is the only truly spiritual yoga because of its slower pace and non-physically challenging focus, let me posit this…What happens if your mind drifts off in a stretching posture, in a mountain pose, or even in that warrior that you’ve done so many millions of times that you can do it in your sleep? The answer: nothing. In fact, the mind is much more likely to drift off when it is not being fully challenged than when it is.
Working on a handstand is to work in fully aligned intention. Your mind, your body, and your spirit all conspire to accomplish your goal. You are in your yoga.
Call it what you will, but these handstands are yoga in their purest and most literal form.