A friend and I were recently lamenting about our need to resist the constant urge to tell anyone we come into contact with that yoga can cure whatever ails you. And we mean whatever. Can’t sleep? Do yoga. High blood pressure? Do yoga. Acne? Migraines? Depression? You get the drift.
But did you know that yoga can also make you superhuman? It’s true – I promise. While you may not be Ganesha or Hanuman, two yoga deities who possessed all of the eight primary siddhis (spiritual powers) on your journey toward Samadhi (union with the divine through meditation), you may sometimes feel like your yoga has made you superhuman. I know I have, and here’s how.
“One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small…”
Liberation, or enlightenment is the goal, right? The path to enlightenment includes accomplishing eight siddhis. In mystic yoga traditions, the eight siddhis are the way to achieve completeness, or, quite literally, to achieve supernatural powers. Chapter 3 of the Yoga Sutras discuss the path to achieving powers like reducing your body to the smallest particle and then expanding it to an infinitesimal size, feeling the heaviest of the heavy to feeling weightless and “having unrestricted access to all places.” I hear Grace Slick running through “White Rabbit” or Morpheus asking Neo in the Matrix if he wants the red pill or the blue pill.
Once you’ve performed the oh-so-easy task of completing the eight primary siddhis, then you take on the challenge of the ten sub-siddhis. These include moving as fast as thought (teleporting), assuming any form you desire (shape-shifting), and entering the bodies of others. These all sound like something straight of an X-Men or Watchmen comic. Now, if you’re a mere mortal such as myself, you may not achieve any of the siddhis in this life (or the next one, or the next), but, like me, you may have witnessed the superhuman powers of yoga in more subtle ways.
As long as there is breath in the body, there is life.
I have come to realize the importance of meditation and pranayama as part of my yoga practice. I’ve come to realize that they are equal to or more important than my asana practice. I can witness the link between meditation and pranayama as I watch my thoughts ride the breath. If the breath slows, the mind will quiet. As I reach toward that goal of quieting the mind, I notice without even realizing how much the space between each breath has stretched and become a pause.
The yogic term for this is kumbhaka. As you sit quietly, noticing each inhale and each exhale, you may reach a point where you begin to notice the duration of each pause in that space between lengthens without effort. The act of holding the breath as you breathe in and out becomes automatic and the mind grows quiet.
"When the breath is irregular, then the mind will be unsteady, but when the breath is controlled, then the mind will also be controlled, calm and one-pointed," William Bodri, a kumbhaka practitioner and expert. This one-pointed focus at which the mind becomes still is known as samadhi. In yoga, you can live without breathing. You can slow your breath down to the point of stopping and you can live without breathing. I’ve felt the stretch but I haven’t felt the stopping.
You can levitate…
Again, everything circles back to meditation. Laghima, in Sanskrit, means levitation, and levitation can be achieved through a specific meditation on the throat chakra. The element for the throat chakra is ether, so meditate on it and you should be able to pop right up off the ground, no problem. Sort of like when you played Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board when as a kid, only there are no friends surrounding you and lifting you up by their first and middle fingers.
This can also be reached by performing samyama, a three-tiered meditation focusing on dharana (fixation of attention), dhyana (concentration) and samadhi (absorption). The first two are easiest to master but all three are intertwined and dependent on each other. They exist simultaneously in the mind and once mastered can elevate you to a higher state of awareness, and apparently elevate you higher off the ground.
Kundalini is another way to reach a “levitative” state. Kundalini is the point when the energy is released at the base of the sushumna, or spinal cord, and snakes its way up toward the brain. Here the second and third chakras are at work. Upon reaching the climax of yoga, or kundalini, you may find yourself looking down at the ground with nothing but air between your sit bones and the floor.
Many yogis of India have been witnessed and recorded levitating. As for me, the closest I’ve gotten is when I’ve gone deep into meditation and I feel like my head is filling up like a balloon to about eighteen times its normal side. The sensation can be quite odd so if I don’t send myself into a panic, which I’ve occasionally been wont to do, I do feel as if my inflated head could lift me right off the ground. Who knows, maybe it does. I wouldn’t know – and likely no one else in the room would either if we all have our eyes closed like good little yogis.
…and then you can fly.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Sometimes, though, some yogis sure make a good case for actual flight. I would know since that is usually the point in a yoga class where I sit back in Virasana and watch with my jaw on my mat as fellow students float weightlessly and seemingly without effort from Firefly to Side Crow to Flying Crow to Eight Angle Pose and maybe into Dragonfly Pose for good measure before shooting their legs back into Chaturanga. And they all do it with feet arriving noiselessly on their mat and without one single rivulet of sweat on their brow, or anywhere at all on their body, for that matter. It’s conversely mind numbing and awe inspiring to watch.
Someday, I’ll get there.