A Cheap Trick:
Handstand, Backbends & the Deeper Dimension of Yoga.

Via Kino MacGregor
on Mar 26, 2012
get elephant's newsletter

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

Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.


About Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor is an international yoga teacher, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, co-founder of Miami Life Center, co-fouder of Yoga Challenge and OmStars. Kino’s dharma is to help people experience the limitless potential of the human spirit through the inner tradition of yoga. She is one of the few people in the world of yoga to embrace both the traditional teaching of India’s historic past and the popular contemporary social media channels. You can find her teaching classes and workshops all over the world and on Kino Yoga Instagram with over one million followers and on Kino Yoga YouTube channel with over 100 million views. With more than 17 years of experience in Ashtanga Yoga, she is one of a select group of people to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India and practice into the Fifth Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Practice with Kino online at OmStars.


27 Responses to “A Cheap Trick:
Handstand, Backbends & the Deeper Dimension of Yoga.”

  1. Beautiful and true. Let the yoga lead you!

  2. jonathan says:

    Very nice Kino. Such control.

  3. Vijay Vadlamani says:

    What a wonderful commentary.

  4. Melodie says:

    Couldn’t agree more, well said

  5. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posted to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  6. robertwolf681 says:

    I like this.

  7. What'syourstand says:

    I'm confused. If the poses are the "cheap tricks" and yoga is about our souls, then why does this article end with a video that instructs us on how to perform one of the aforementioned tricks? Seems like somebody can't make up her mind. Then again, cheap trick lessons do pay the bills.

  8. Annabel says:

    Im confused too?

  9. guest says:

    because the point is one is nice but both is way better.

  10. Pangaea says:

    She's saying simply: Yoga is not just about the physical.
    The more you practice, the more you'll understand.
    do not rush to understand it.
    Just build your practice.

    Observe your behaviour, your breath, your irritation, your elation, your fears, pains etc within each days practice.
    Observe your behaviour, your breath, your irritation, your elation, your fears, pains etc within your life off the mat.

    then you'll begin to understand and experience an intricate connection between the two.
    Then you'll begin to see that your interaction with your body, your life is just this: 'practice'

    Practice, movement towards the ultimate highest self that is within you, and everyone and everything around you.

    Practice involves effort and strength. effort and strength wit an essence of relaxation and ease must be applied before steadiness, before true posture is realised.


  11. lighthasmass says:

    Oh hay…..I just realized for the press up you bring the knees close into the chest…..that may be key. At least for me, been trying this for years…….but I never bring the knees in close. Thanks.

  12. Kino says:

    Good point! I'm glad that you mentioned this because one of the things that I want to explain is that when you are working on things that look like "tricks" of the practice they have the power to transform you if you allow then to literally change your perspective. If you do the inner work, actually, anything can transform you. But if you get caught in doing the "tricks" for their own sake it's a dead-end in terms of the spiritual practice. I hope that makes sense!

  13. yogaboca says:

    Kino, brilliant post! I love the way you integrated the story at the beginning with your philosophic message! There is more behind yoga than simply what meets the eye! 🙂

  14. I am a little confused too: If one wants to talk about spiritual practice there is a lot more already in the astanga or eight-limb yoga besides asanas or breathing that is closer to spiritual practice.

    In addition to all kinds of meditation techniques there is a lot of theory to tell why meditation works – and why asanas do assist in it.

    Funny thing about the tricks and meditation for me is that although I first learned it some 30 years ago out of curiosity or because of some other unconscious motive I was really impressed by the trick it did in my mind – and still am. 🙂

  15. Kino says:

    I wanted to talk specifically about the "tricks" of the practice because I am encountering some students that are drawn to the "tricks" for their own sake and stop their spiritual search at asana perfection. If the pursuit of handstands and backbends is used as a doorway towards a deeper level of awareness, the the "trick" has served it's purpose. But if the awareness stays merely at the physical then the power of the practice is to some degree thwarted.

  16. Robert says:

    With all due respect, it might have been helpful for many reading this article to have pointed out that the "tricks" are not a gateway – these will simply not be accessible to many practitioners for a variety of reasons – thus those who still seek a deeper level of awareness need not concern themselves with them at all. For those practitioners who can do the "tricks", It's not a matter of do handstands & backbends and then focus on the deeper aspects of yoga; how about work on the deeper aspects of yoga as a priority and be aware, even wary, of the ego behind perfection in asana?

  17. Thaddeus1 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this Kino. I truly appreciate the nuanced ways in which you blend the physical aspects of the practice into the deeper, more metaphysical underpinnings. You consistently accomplish this task piece after piece here on elephant for the benefit of it's readers and ashtangis worldwide.

    Posting to Elephant Ashtanga. Be sure to Like Elephant Ashtanga on Facebook.

  18. […] A Cheap Trick: Handstand, Backbends, and the Deeper Dimension of Yoga […]

  19. Cat says:

    Remember to focus on your own journey; it doesn't matter if some people like to practice the jump-throughs, or do yoga nidra for seven hours, or have a strong physical practice. Whatever it is that brings you happiness and deeper awareness is all that matters. And for those of us who are into the yamas, remember that before we begin to criticize the contents of this blog. If it doesn't float your boat, don't do it, and don't preach against it. Make your yoga practice about love, and make it YOURS.

  20. Jules says:

    I agree Kino, it baffles me when people find out I'm a yoga teacher and they say, do a trick then! I'm no magician! The point of yoga is much deeper than the superficial! Thanks, namaste

  21. Sharon Marie says:

    Such a good article. I am attracted to both the physical practice and the deeper spiritual practice. I feel like I need strong sensation and challenge to get me closer to … what exactly? A deeper awareness. A deeper connection to something greater than myself. There are so many different styles of yoga, and I am deeply attracted to this one, because, for the most part, I can physically do it and it's FUN! At least it is for me right now. I am only in the 1st Primary Series. I'm in love with it and not sad that the tricks don't come until later. I play with the tricks, but when I do my Ashtanga practice, I stay true to the Primary because there is a reason they are in a particular order. As my mind opens to deeper spiritual meaning, my body will follow, and I can move on, until, I can't do any of it anymore and all I can do is sit and breathe. So, I'm going to do it as long as I can and am able and not waste time questioning why I can or can't. It works for me now.

  22. […] She spoke to me about Yogacharya Venkatesha, who was the only teacher providing classes on backbending and possessed a gift for […]

  23. […] I halfheartedly slog through cobra, half locust, full locust and upward bow, each time collapsing back onto my mat just as the teacher says ‘a few more breaths.’ As I lay in my face down savasana, I want to cry. Why am I being such a vile brat? Where is the animosity coming from? Why does my body feel like lead doing backbends today? And why am I so against doing them? I actually like backbends. […]

  24. […] has yet to emerge from the rotting pupa of this bad guy. He is mean, he pushes us ‘til we cry and his handstands are banana-shaped. But, I am committed to making my spirituality better so I can be magnificent, like he says he […]

  25. […] Again and again, I attempted to go up into a handstand. […]

  26. Kris says:

    Kino, I love reading your commentaries as you are truly a gifted writer. You have a wonderful way of explaining complex ideas and inspiring people.

  27. Olga says:

    Kino, I admire your work. Thank you for your presence and expression.
    Clearly in order to know what you are talking about one would have to experience the inner growth the practice brings and connect the two. That's why you get the "I'm confused" comments, to which you reply with amazing maturity.

    Awareness is contagious. Keep shining.