Not too long ago, one of my students had what she described as an “out-of-body experience” in a restorative yoga practice. It reminded me a bit of the experiences described by some of transcendental meditators that I used to hang around.
Those amazing yogis had the most intense meditation practices of anyone I’d ever known.
They were super far out, yearned to be in that space all the time, and specifically cultivated a meditation practice that would take them there at will. (On the flip side, most of them had a hard time paying the rent or being in committed relationships. But that came from never putting their energy or focus back down and into their daily lives.)
The yogi from my class who had the “out-of-body experience” said she firmly prefers the kind of yoga that puts her *into* body.
She jokingly said she was about to jump up out of savasana and into a triangle pose.
I told her a story from the Mundaka Upanishad about Shaunaka, a householder yogi. Shaunaka goes to his teacher and wants to know why he isn’t making more progress in his study of yoga. His teacher explains that while Shaunaka’s practice is steady and correct, he is succeeding in becoming master of only lower knowledge.
The Mundaka Upanishad goes on to explain in a very beautiful and poetic style, more beautiful than my retelling could do justice, the true purpose of yoga.
The benefits of yoga practice come when the student works toward mastering the Self.
My teachers have given me a similar chat about my own yoga practice. I’ve been stuck in asana-land these days and I recognized this experience in my student, too. We joked about it.
If just practice down dog long enough and in exactly the right way, we are sure to attain Self-realization eventually.
Ha! Neither of us believes for a second that yoga asana can take anyone to this place. That doesn’t mean yoga postures are a waste of time. Asana is a fantastic way to improve the health of body, and to get us more fully connected to the body. Asana has definitely helped me to recognize ways that my body and my perceptions of it are the causes of suffering.
But let me tell you first hand, it’s so much harder to face all of the stuff that comes bubbling up when the moving and posing stops.
Even the most complicated yoga posture feels like a breeze compared to those crazy demons that can come popping up in the quiet stillness.
I definitely can’t claim to have experienced any of the transcendent “out-of-body” experiences that my student or those meditators I used to know have had.
But it’s in the quiet times when I really start to dig into understanding the interworkings of Self.
And that’s when the practice of yoga really starts.