The Superhero’s Journey and the Path of Yoga

Faith is my sword. Truth is my shield. Knowledge my armor.

This beautiful quote could have easily been pulled from the profound teachings of an eighth-century Indian yoga master, but it’s not. It’s a quote from Doctor Strange of the Marvel Comics universe.

I just returned from taking my 10-year-old son to yet another Marvel Comics movie, and I’m in awe at how Marvel continues to dominate the worldwide box office with their constant barrage of superhero movies. Why is it that we are so drawn to superheroes?

We all know the storyline. There’s a danger threatening a city, and helpless beings fearing death and destruction. Along comes a brave hero with extraordinary powers who must overcome their own demons and put the well-being of others before their own safety. The hero will dedicate much of their time to training for the inevitable battle and learning how to use their powers for a positive purpose.

So why is this such an appealing story worldwide? Perhaps because, at its core, this triumphant journey mimics the journey of the human experience, the path to happiness—and also the path of yoga. While the yoga path might not contain the sensational events of a Marvel movie, it does require training, mastery, and compassion for others.

Walking out of a good superhero movie leaves one with the feeling of MHS (Movie Hero Syndrome). MHS is that feeling of confidence: I can do that. I am special. This feeling should not be confused with the egotistical “I’m better than you” mentality; it’s more like, “I am special and so are all beings.” Siddhartha Gautama realized this on his path to becoming Buddha, the Awakened One. Siddhartha journeyed outside the palace walls of his kingdom for the first time at the age of 29, and witnessed firsthand the suffering of others. He was so moved that he gave up his princely robes and ventured into the forest to follow the path of yoga, determined to find a way out of suffering and help others do the same.

The yoga teachings help us realize the “superhero state” that Buddha achieved, a far more powerful state than a Marvel character controlling thunder and wielding an indestructible hammer. The highest stage of yoga marks the greatest potential of our human existence—a place of true happiness beyond fear, anger, attachments, and aversions—in which we recognize the true nature of reality outside our own perceptual biases. While it may not motivate box office hits, I believe this path is far more inspiring than any superhero movie.

So will I stop going to the movies? Not a chance. I will continue to take my son to the movies and wish him a marvelous journey as he discovers his own human potential and is inspired to help others do the same.

Find out about upcoming programs with Kevan Gale at Kripalu.

Kevan Gale, E-RYT 500, is co-owner of Stil Studio in Boston and creator of Fluid Yoga and EnLiving.

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