Magic trick or true spiritual practice?
Stuck on a transit train in Dallas airport during a tight connection I found myself staring anxiously at the time above the monitor. I boarded the train at Terminal D and was going to Terminal C. If I remembered my alphabet correctly C and D should be right next to each other so I expected a fast ride. But in Dallas they do things differently. Terminal C comes after E and is nearly ten full minutes away from D. Just as I was nervously staring at the progress from one stop to another I noticed a thin man with cowboy boots and a mustache trying to catch my attention.
I braced myself for a pick up line but instead I got to see a magic trick.
A black handkerchief was floating in the air as the graying blonde cowboy said, “We are all sinners and our souls are black with sin.” That got my attention as I realized it was not going to be any old pick up line, he was vying for my soul. He stuffed the black fabric into his hand and said, “Until Jesus was born and died for us, to wash away our sins, our souls were black as night.” And then poof the black handkerchief was gone and his hands were waving the open air. “So you have to be born again and accept Jesus Christ as your savior or else your sins will come right back,” he said in a somewhat serious voice as the black handkerchief appeared again like magic out of his hand. Then he smiled and showed me the little device that made the magic act possible and said,
“This is just a cheap trick but the miracle of God is no joke.”
I much preferred this magic show gospel to a pick-up line. It was entertaining and the last line stayed with me and left me thinking after I hopped off the transit train to arrive at my gate just in time to board. The magic tricks of the yoga practice also keep us entertained long enough to open our mind to a potentially deeper message. All the handstands, acrobatic jump throughs, deep backbends and exciting postures are all just cheap tricks, but the miracle of the practice is no joke. The gravity of what happens underneath the physical through the practice of yoga is something that is incredibly hard to explain in words. It borders on the ineffable because the magic of yoga happens exactly when you touch the divine within yourself.
When your mind shifts awareness to the highest nature of spirit, the physical body heals, transforms and changes. But if you get caught in trying to master only the superficial tricks of the practice, you run the risk of preventing the experience, the magic, that is at the heart of yoga.
When I first started Ashtanga Yoga I was obsessed with the tricks.
I desperately wanted to learn how to do a deeper backbend, lift up higher into handstand and jump back effortlessly. I searched the physical world for tips and tricks and I still do. But the journey into the strength that it takes to maintain the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is not a merely a physical one. It requires a true willingness to go to the depth of the human spirit and let that experience transform you.
If you are not willing to let the experience of learning how to do a handstand literally turn your perspective on the world upside down, then a handstand is just a handstand. But if you are willing to let the process challenge your attachments, humble your ego and unlock compassionate strength then the process of yoga is happening. It is your choice what you focus on through the practice.
You determine whether yoga is just glorified magic trick or a true spiritual practice.
Editor: Tanya L. Markul