Have you ever seen a yogi levitate?
Me neither. But I’ve seen some come pretty darn close, and over the years I’ve gained a little insight into how they’re (almost) doing it.
Good yogis are masters at lightening the body and therefore the pose. How is that possible, you say; the body weighs what it weighs. How can it become lighter or heavier?
But if you’ve ever held a sleeping child in your arms as opposed to a wakeful one you know; consciousness changes physicality. That sleeping child feels like a sack of dense (albeit cute) flour dragging down our arms, while the wakeful one feels more like a big bag of popcorn; hard to contain but comparatively buoyant.
In Book Three of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines samyama as the application of dharana, dhyana and samadhi on a single object. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are all forms of meditation, each one relating to and leading to the next, ultimately creating the deepest level of meditation possible.
When a meditator enters a state of samyama, he sees that there is no separation between himself and anything else. He realizes that every cell, every neuron, every thought and feeling of his own, are the cells, neurons, thoughts and feelings of the universe.
This exercise alone is said to lead to enlightenment, but Patanjali believes that there is more. By performing samyama on something specific, he says, you can release the secrets of any object or idea.
Examples he includes are acquiring the strength of an elephant by performing samyama on an elephant, and making yourself weigh as much as a massive rock by performing samyama on said rock. Though these are extreme, and some might say fanciful instances of controlling physical reality with the mind, there is a connection between the idea of samyama and the control a yogi gradually develops over his body during asana (the physical poses of yoga).
When I first began practicing yoga, I was mystified by the proper execution of chaturanga, (the horizontal lowering of the body toward the floor using only the hands and the toes). How on earth did my fellow students keep their bodies in that long straight line without their chests, or indeed their entire bodies, collapsing to their mat? My teacher assured me I had the strength for the pose, so what was I missing?
The technical details are important. For chatturanga, the elbows must be tucked into the ribs, the drishti (gaze) must be forward, and the heels must be pushing back, all with the core firmly engaged. But more importantly, and what I realized while working on those technical pieces, is that the entire mind and body must also be engaged.
If every cell, molecule, thought and emotion is directed toward inhabiting the pose, if the body and the mind are bound together, you can become light.
It’s very simple.
Imagine your single body as a team of men whose task it is to lift a massive tree. Some of the men are muscular, some are smart, and some are passionate. On their own, none of them has the slightest chance of moving this tree, but together, the task is quickly disposed of. We make ourselves strong by using all our resources in tandem to accomplish the clear goal we have set for ourselves.
As always, it is easy to see a parallel between a sound yoga practice and a well lived life. Life becomes easier, lighter and more beautiful if we dare to engage our entire selves in the living of it. Study technique and philosophy, cultivate physical strength, emotional awareness, kindness and focus, and suddenly your days and your dreams will unfold with ease.
Use all the power of your inner resources to lift and move the most improbable dreams, and as you do so, let your light shine as a beacon for all those that surround you.
We all have a choice to be the heavy sleeping baby weighing down the arms of others, or to be the wakeful, playful child who brings delight and meaning to all those we encounter.
Which will you be?
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Ed: Bryonie Wise