Yep, I said it. Yogis are clowns. With our pink and yellow leggings and fervent attempts to do something awesome without falling down, it might be time to admit our DNA is more clown than acrobat.
Go on, admit it. Yogis think they’re special. We think of ourselves as somewhat different from the community in which we reside. After all, we wake up early. One of the underlying principles of yoga is the idea that we can take certain actions to change or accelerate the course of our evolution. This makes us the circus freaks of our families. I’ll never forget my mother’s annual question, “So, why do you have to go to India again?”
They don’t understand us. And we don’t understand them.
The clown is also special in this way. He doesn’t fit in. The clown/jester/prankster/shaman archetype, who has been a crucial part of human history for just as long as yogis have been sitting quietly in caves, is a rebel. He doesn’t play by the rules laid down by the rest of the tribe. Among the Lakota people, for example, the Heyoka is a sacred clown or satirist. The Heyoka does everything in an unconventional way: he sits on a horse backwards, wears his clothing inside out, and gets madly drunk and inappropriate during ceremonies. In so doing, he inspires others to reconsider their own fears and doubts.
The role of the clown is to step into a world and see it through very curious eyes. The clown wonders. He is full of awe. By mocking the conventional, the clown asks loudly, “Why?” He dares to question the choices and values honored by everyone else.
And in the same way, the yogi wonders what would happen if she made a change. What if, instead of heading straight home after work for ice cream and Game of Thrones, what if she unrolled a mat in a warm room with other clowns–I mean yogis–and played with her attention and her limbs in all sorts of creative ways.
The fundamental teaching of yoga is that the mind is a very busy place. And if somehow we could do something to reduce that busy-ness to a more manageable stream, we might see the world in a completely different way.
And so the yogi sits. Faced with the distractions of the senses, the yogi attempts to sit in stillness and observe. The sounds of the dishwasher churning and the bus passing by outside come and go. The yogi sits. Dappled light passes over her eyelids, and colors stimulate her eyes. Still she sits. Ever still, ever observing, ever witnessing, the yogi begins to distinguish that which changes from that which stays the same.
Similarly the clown steps onto stage and hears what no one else on stage hears. While the acrobat exists in the world of fantasy, lights illuminating her rippling muscles, hitting every mark of her act with precision and grace, the clown walks out in front of the crowd and squints in the bright lights. He hears a baby in the audience, crying in the dark, and it affects him. This is what sets the clown apart from everyone else on stage.
The clown allows these inputs to inspire his movement and expressions. He doesn’t suppress his emotions, he wears them on his sleeve: his joy, his fear, and his grief. In so doing, we see ourselves in him and question the choices we make.
This, of course, is what we hope for as yogis. We hope that our meager attempts at self-realization and radical choice might spill out and have an impact on the world around us. We hope that others will notice the choices we make and be inspired to move in similar ways.
We should hope, I believe, to be sacred clowns.
Don’t take them seriously. But take them sincerely.
Banyan Gallagher dreams of living in a world where people laugh more. As a past semi-pro athlete, Banyan’s fascination with all things movement-related led him to in-depth studies of martial arts, firedance, circus clown, ballet, motorcycle racing, human dissection, philosophy, mystical poetry, and meditation, the ultimate movement of stillness. Instagram @yogibanyan Somehow Banyan manages to synthesize these diverse interests into a lesson for all of us — that happiness and awakening are ours for the taking. Through the platform of yoga and awareness, Banyan spreads his love of life throughout the world in three to five Yoga Alliance-certified trainings a year at the 200 and 300 hour level, as well as assorted trainings and workshops. Please visit www.BanyanGallagher.com to discover where in the world you can find him. And then give him a smile.