While a dedicated yoga practice can give us super-physical powers, those powers can become obstacles. At least that’s what Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras (sutra 3.38). I can think of at least one way this would be true. If we become attached to such superpowers, we may lose site of the fact that we are still on a journey to enlightenment. Super-physical powers are not the goal. Patanjali tells us the journey eventually means leaving the physical body entirely and entering “another” body.
By loosening the cause of bondage (to the body) and by knowledge of the channels of activity of the mind-stuff, entry into another body is possible. (sutra 3.39)
Leaving the Physical Body: A Guide for Yogis
The mind-body (or mind and body if you prefer to think of them separately) are necessary for the human experience. The goal for yogis is mastery of the mind and body. We want to control them rather than allow them to control us, as they easily will. Interestingly, though, the point of this control—or mastery—is preparation for leaving the physical body as well as detaching from the thinking monkey mind.
Once we understand how the mind works and learn to loosen its grip on the body—the gross, or physical body, that is—we can move into another body. This may be another human body, as in reincarnation, or an “astral” body, depending on which philosophy you follow.
Yogic scholar Reverend Jaganath Carrera explains, “Whatever interpretation is preferred, the important point is that the yogi gains knowledge of the way the mind-stuff moves into, interacts with, and functions through a body.” We also stop identifying with the body or the mind.
More Superpowers for Yogis
According to classical yogic tradition, as a yogi progresses in knowledge of the mind-stuff, he or she may become able to do even more remarkable things! Some examples are levitate (sutra 3.40), experience radiance surrounding the body (sutra 3.41), obtain extraordinary hearing (sutra 3.42), travel through ether (sutra 3.43), and outer body experiences (sutra 3.44).
These supernatural states are not unique to yoga. As Reverend Carrera points out, there are several examples Christian saints who were able to levitate spontaneously. Most of us have had a least tiny, fleeting experiences of feeling very light and being outside our bodies. People who have near death experiences report seeing what is happening from a place outside their physical bodies.
“Our identification with the body and mind is so ingrained that breaking it is no easy task,” Reverend Carrera says.
But we know that one day we will have no choice. Our connection to our bodies and minds will end. Yogis focus on this truth of impermanence, because in the end, it may be the only thing that matters.
Mastery over the gross and subtle elements is gained by samyama on their essential nature, correlations, and purpose. (sutra 3.45)
To me, this sutra illuminates a yogi’s quest for self-knowledge and the purpose of life. It’s a quest most of us would like to undertake successfully. Yoga is an excellent tool for the journey!