“We make a living by what we get. But we make a life by what we give.”
Norman MacEwan

A Political Headstand


There is a famous image of Israel’s first prime minister Ben Gurion doing a headstand. I think it’s pretty impressive that a newborn country’s first prime minister was a yoga practitioner. But this morning, it is not a romantic notion that set me thinking on this path, it is a critical one.

Headstand provides a popular image for Yoga – it stands out. It providers an easily accessible metaphor for a fresh perspective on life. For many people it is a challenging posture – and when it’s finally conquered it can bring a gratifying sense of achievement.

Beyond it’s obvious physical qualities, headstand posture has energetic qualities and it can be used to affect the body’s energy system. These energetic qualities are available in additional more accessible postures that provide less distraction and enable a practitioner to go deeper and experience more subtle qualities in practice. They are much less “sensational” and it takes persistence and patience to sense and appreciate them. They require intricate breath work and lead to meditative places.

Following is a quote (source Wikipedia) from 1957 attributed to Ben Gurion:

“Why should the Arabs make peace? If I was an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country … There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? They may perhaps forget in one or two generations’ time, but for the moment there is no chance. So it is simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army.”

Ben Gurion made his mark on life in a time of extremism – a conflicted birth of a conflicted country from a conflicted background in a conflicted world. A country that exemplifies and in which manifests one of the most powerful forces of friction on the planet – a conflict between east & west, between established religion and fmodern politics, between tradition and free thought. An extremism that I feel almost every where around me in Israel, and as the years go bye seems to be insinuating itself all over the world.

I don’t know what Ben Gurion’s Yoga practice was like, but I wonder if instead of doing headstands and making them famous he would have have practiced and made famous forward seated bends with long and quality breath. Would he have made different decisions and planted different seeds in Israeli society, culture & politics? If he was instead famous for inhaling 12 seconds, holding his breath for 12 seconds, exhaling for 12 seconds and holding his breath for another 12 seconds – what effect that would have had on Israeli society? What if this would have fostered amongst popular Israeli traits, things like patience, attention and respect?

If Ben Gurion’s teacher was Desikachar or even Krishnamacharya and he practiced more Pranayama, could that have made a different world for us today?

This entry was posted in Asana, Expanding, inside, Israel, Yoga, Yoga & Life. You are welcome to read 9 comments and to add yours


  1. anjplanetyoga
    Posted August 3, 2010 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    I'm not sure I agree, Ronen. I don't know that a breathing practice instead of a headstand pose would change Israel's people, but my boss, Leeann Carey, says that headstand pose is a great way to become centered. She has a free yoga video on this subject that your readers could benefit from: http://planetyoga.com/yoga-blogs/index.php/free-y

    • Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

      Dear Friend,

      Thank you for taking time to visit and reply πŸ™‚

      I have a friend who eats lots of tomatoes. He read somehwere that tomatoes are "really good for you" (I think it was something specific like reducing the chance of cancer). My friend has a pitta-vata constitution and has a very difficult time finding peace in body or mind. Though my knowledge of Ayurveda is basic – I suspect his indulgence in tomatoes flames his fire excessively.

      I believe that health-related advice deserves more "full of care" and individual attention. We live in a world that is overflowing with superficial and oversimplified equations "A is good for B" which people take on as is. What do you mean when you say "to become centered"?

      Headstand is an advanced posture. As Leeann herself suggests, in her well-produced video, it needs preparation and I would also add that it needs counter-postures following it. There are more accessible and safer alternatives to experiencing some of the systemic qualities (which most teachers seem to overlook) of headstand. Headstand is nowhere near the top of my list of recommended postures. It gets way too much attention and is too often misused.

      BUT – don't take my word for it πŸ™‚ I invite you to experiment. Take a practice built around headstand for 3 months, then take a practice built around mahamudra with a breath ratio of at least 32 seconds (8 seconds inhale, 8 seconds hold, 8 seconds exhale and 8 seconds hold) for another 3 months. Then we can have a quality conversation about it πŸ™‚

      All Things Good

  2. Posted May 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Ben-Gurion took extensive Feldenkrais lessons directly from Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais. There was a lot hoopla that Feldenkrais taught him to stand on his head over the course of a year. While the teaching involved hours of helping Ben-Gurion's system adjust to the change in pressures so that he could eventually do this movement safely, when Ben-Gurion decided to give it a try unsupervised on a beach and a picture was taken, the world was literally turned upside down. Letters from doctors and citizens poured in with concern and outrage.

    As I heard it, it was for Ben-Gurion a marker of a healthy person to do such a movement and so Dr. Feldenkrais felt it important to help him achieve it. Upon working with Dr. Feldenkrais, Ben-Gurion was known for doing inappropriate things for an important, old man such as sliding down a banister. Yikes! Behavior unbecoming a prime minister.

  3. thufir
    Posted May 15, 2012 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Ben-Gurion practiced Feldenkrais, not any form of yoga.

  4. jerome symons
    Posted April 10, 2013 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Ben-Gurion successors certainly take an upside-down view of the world.

    • Posted April 10, 2013 at 8:06 pm | Permalink

      is there a right-side-up view of the world as it currently is?

  5. Benj Langdon
    Posted June 6, 2015 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Moshe Feldenkrais taught him the headstand very slowly and carefully. American ambitious Yoga ptobably would have killed him because of his heart problems.

  6. F Callen
    Posted November 2, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    That “quotation from Ben Gurion” is highly suspect and likely a fake: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/the-goldmann-paradox/2013/08/21/

    • Posted November 8, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

      thank you for shedding light on that … do you feel that brings into question the legacy of Ben Gurion?

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