It’s true. Nowhere in the Yoga Sutra does Patanjali say that you must press a handstand in order to break from the cycle of karma, death and rebirth.
In fact, all of pada #3 warns against desiring ANY accomplishment too much. Want the strength of a tiger?? Fine. But expect to wake up tomorrow with stripes and giant chompers.
The moral of that story being: You can win an earthly boon if you want to, but doing so will keep you chained to the earthly plane forevermore unless you can set your sights on a focus that is “higher.”
At the yoga studio I owned for a decade (before selling mid-pandemic and diving full on into THIS dharma-fulfillment ), my co-owner and I were lucky enough to have hosted a three-day intensive with one of the world’s foremost Sutras scholars, Edwin Bryant. He broke down each sutra word by word in English and in Sanskrit for our group. It was painstaking and laborious and amazing. When he got to book #3 — which is all about the powers you can attain when your focus is strong enough — he flipped a chunk of pages briskly, looked up from his brow, and said: “You can skip this book.”
Point being: If your goal is Liberation, then all other goals are just a distraction — or in Christ’s terms, just to draw the comparison — a temptation. But, wait! As long as we’re turning to a historic fellow (Patanjali) to guide our actions today… (a fellow btw whose existence as a singular personage has been credibly questioned — a subject for another time),
I’ll point out that…
Following his advice to the letter in the context of asana as it is available in the time in which we live…
stilling the mind, honing your vessel, committing yourself to meditation, operating with consistency, devotion, and non-attachment…
…quite naturally and almost inevitably leads to the ability to execute a perfect handstand.
So, what then?
Do we halt our physical progress and take steps backward because we harbor a belief that we’ve gotten too big for our britches? I’m asking seriously.
Do we stop practicing asana to the level of our capability because we’d rather hold onto the notion that a strong body just must be all about ego? (I think not).
Do we pretend we can’t do it or hide the fact that we can because someone somewhere might think we don’t actually understand the “real” goal of yoga? (Or, sadder still, because the Pradipika tells us to keep the practice a secret — another note for another time.)
Cuz I’ll be candid:
A handstand is no big deal. I mean… it is until it’s not.
So let’s get over ourselves already (I say this with the biggest of hearts).
While we’re at it , let’s stop giving too much of our power over to all of the dead dudes, yeah? Or at least let’s really look hard at why we do.
Don’t get me wrong.
I have tremendous respect for Patanjali’s distilling of the yoga system — to the point where his words guide me every single day. I’d bet, though, that Patanjali had no opinion whatsoever on the matter of handstands. AND, if he did, I admit (blasphemy!) that I don’t really care.
The moral of this non-moralist’s story:
Yes, yoga is not about handstanding. Also: You can do handstand and still progress on the “real” path of yoga however you or your chosen authority are defining it.
And let’s not overlook that on this earthly plane — the only one I know intimately — handstands are an incredibly effective way to amplify your health, bring your body into balance, create a rock-solid core and develop mobility that will help you age more comfortably. Not stopping there…
They’re an effective way to train and focus the mind. For these reasons (←) they can be of great succor on the path toward ultimate freedom, Patanjali-style.
That’s not why I do them though. I do them because they’re a lot of fun.
What’s standing in your way?
p.s. The intention of the call is to help you and I decide whether you’re a good fit for my 12-week Body Mind Mastery program. If I think you’re not a good fit, or if I don’t think I can help you with your specific goals, I will tell you so and have done so w/out qualm or hesitation before.
p.p.s. If you’re wondering about the price, I’ll tell you it depends on which discounts you qualify for, but it’s on the order of a 200-hr teacher training in the U.S. which typically runs you between $2000 and $4000. I’d like you to fully understand the impact the program could have and whether it even makes sense for you to join the program before we discuss investment. If that disqualifies you, I’m okay with that.