When you think of the concept of bodily perfection in yoga, what comes to mind? If you’re like many Westerners, you’re thinking of toned abdominal muscles, flexibility, and maybe even a cool designer wardrobe that shows off that yoga body. According to the Yoga Sutras, yogis can achieve bodily perfection in yoga. But for a true yogi, that means something very different from physical fitness and appearance.
Beauty, grace, strength, and adamantine hardness constitute bodily perfection. (sutra 3.47)
If you’ve read previous posts, you might recall that yoga practices result in mastery over the physical body. Beauty, grace, and strength are hallmarks of the yoga lifestyle.
That means yogis never get sick, right?
Well, no. Of course, yogis get sick. Reverend Jaganath Carrera explains illness as “residual karmas that are being allowed to manifest from a time prior to Self-realization.” Bodily perfection in yoga does not mean we have perfect physical bodies. And while yogis may attempt to treat illness, often successfully, we know we are not our bodies. With this knowledge, we can accept physical trials with peace, seeing them simply as nature taking its course.
Bodily Perfection in Yoga is Mastery of the Body
Now, you and I may not accept illness easily, but the point is that while yoga can help us master our bodies, in the end we know our bodies are only temporary vessels. They are not us.
Still, mastery over the body has undeniable benefits while we are in it! In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali goes on to explain that yoga enables us to gain mastery over the process of perception (sutra 3.48). After that, the body become able to move as fast as the mind. In fact, it can function without relying on the senses at all! (sutra 3.49).
What does this mean? It may mean that the mind, free from the baggage the senses impose on it, can move on to a higher state of consciousness. This is where the concept of bodily perfection in yoga becomes truly fascinating.
By recognition of the distinction between sattwa (the pure reflective aspect of the mind) and the Self, supremacy over all states and forms of existence (omnipotence) is gained, as is omniscience. (sutra 3.50)
I don’t know about you, but to me, sutra 3.50 is a bit of a challenge. It suggests that once I know my true Self, I can be omnipotent and omniscient. In other words, I can become all-powerful and all-knowing. This can be an uncomfortable idea for Westerners who may see God as the only all-powerful and all-knowing being. My guess is Patanjali is not suggesting that we can be as powerful as God, but that we can achieve amazing powers of self-mastery.
Yoga Can Free the Body (and Mind)
By non-attachment even to that…the seed of bondage is destroyed and thus follows Kaivalya. (sutra 3.51)
Kaivalya is independence. In this sense, it is independence from the constraints of the “mind-stuff” that keeps us from knowing who we truly are. Our goal as yogis is freedom from the limits that exist in the physical realm.
Reverend Carrera tells us we can become liberated from “such alluring experiences” through surrender to a higher power—that is, by practicing the fifth niyama, Ishwara Pranidhana.
That of course, becomes easier when we do other yoga practices as well. Dedication to the practice brings us closer to our source.