Identity crisis of the Disney Princess (and why she needs yoga)

My almost-2-year-old loves to listen to Disney songs. I’m listening to these again in a much different way from when I heard them as a child. #1 I’m a mom, and #2 I’m in the middle of an intense yoga teacher training.

So I’ve noticed in these songs that there is a very common theme among the characters. From the Little Mermaid to Moana, these women are all flawed in the same way. They all have a serious identity crisis, are way caught up in ego, & are sorely in need of some yogic healing!

As much as I love the Little Mermaid, we must admit she is a hoarder. Remember that grotto? “You want thingamabobs? I’ve got 20! But who cares? No big deal. I want mooooore….” She’s discontent with who she is (a mermaid) and tries to fill the emptiness with material objects from another reality (the human world). Ariel, you need to release that ego, girl.

Princess Jasmine runs away and pretends to be a commoner because she’s tired of her life at the palace. Then she falls in love with a guy who later pretends to be someone he’s not. (a prince) Mulan sings “Must I pretend that I’m someone else for all time? When will my reflection show who I am inside?” Then she pretends to be a man and joins the army, only to remain unhappy because she’s a straight woman who loves a soldier. The drama… Even the Lion King runs away and pretends he’s not a king because he fears he accidentally killed his father. Tough themes for a kids’ movie!

We see the same themes over and over again: questioning identity, clinging to ego, and fear.

I’ve gotta give some props to Elsa for her “Let it Go” mantra in Frozen. “The fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all.” That sounds like a snow princess who’s spent some time meditating with the Sutras. “It’s time to see what I can do to test the limits and break through. No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free. Let it go, let it go. I am one with the wind and sky.” Wow, that’s impressive! But let’s face it, our girl Elsa did run away from all her family, friends, and responsibilities because she couldn’t handle her own strength, thus plunging the whole town into an icy hell. Anyway, it turned out alright in the end.

We know our princess pals’ stories ultimately resolve and they end up finding themselves and having their dreams come true. Ariel gets to stay human, giving up all she knows and loves for a new reality with the humans she’s known for a few weeks. Seems like sound judgement. Belle lucks out when her beastly love turns into an ideal princess utopia. The Lion King becomes king after all. And the Disney villains? Their bad karma comes back to them for sure. (That’s another post though.) 😉

Now I don’t mean to diss on Disney. I actually love Disney movies, especially the 1990’s renaissance ones. I grew up on those and rewatched them to my heart’s content.

But now as a mama and a yogi, if I were to give these princesses some advice, I think they’d do well to mull over a few ideas from the Yoga Sutras. I.e. “It seems we always identify ourselves with what is seen, with what we possess.” (I’m looking at you, Ariel.) … “Everything we call ours cannot be us… This identification with other things is the cause of all our pain… Stay in your true Self.” (Sutra 2.17)

Here’s a favorite: “Suppose I ask you who you are. If you say, ‘I am a man,’ you have identified yourself with a masculine body…(Mulan) If you say ‘I am a millionaire,’ you are identifying with your bank account; (Aladdin) if ‘a mother’, with a child; ‘a husband,’ with a wife… ‘I am black or white’ shows your identification with the shape and color of the body. But without these identifications, who are you?.. When you really understand that, you will see we are all the same. If you detach yourself completely from all the things you have identified yourself with, you realize yourself as the pure ‘I’. In that pure ‘I’ there is no difference between you and me.” (Sutra 1.4)

Or how about this one about the five obstacles (or klesahs) in life? “Because of ignorance of the Self, egoism comes. Because of egoism, there is attachment to things for the ego’s selfish pleasure. Because sometimes the things we are attached to do not come or are taken away, hatred for those who get in the way comes.” (Sutra 2.3) Think Scar in the Lion King, Gaston in Beauty and the Beast, or Cinderella’s wicked step sisters.

Come to think of it, Disney is really a great background for thinking about and discussing life. So who’s your favorite Disney character? As for me, it’s Pocahontas. Now that’s a princess I can get behind. She knows who she is. Her only dilemma is deciding between the local boy & the foreign bad boy. And in the end she just wants peace. Am I too sappy if “Colors of the Wind” makes me want to cry? “And we are all connected to each other in a circle, in a hoop that never ends.” That mantra is 100% mama and yogi approved. 😉

Reference:

Satchidananda, Sri Swami. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Integral Yoga Publications, 1978.

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