Sutra 3.25: baleshu hasti baladini
By practicing samyama on strengths, the yogi attains the strength of an elephant, etc. Translation by Edwin Bryant
Correct visualization of the strength of an elephant, or whatever is desired, makes one as strong as an elephant or whatever. Translation by Kofi Busia
I love that there’s an elephant in the sutras. An elephant! What, you might wonder, does an elephant have to do with your yoga practice? You might as well ask how anything bears on your practice, which is indeed part of the point, as Busia’s translation above makes clear. The yogi can take on the qualities of any creature (a ladybug, even!) through the practice of samyama on them.
Samyama is the practice of focusing your meditation. Meditation as described in the Yoga Sutras has several steps, the last three of which are essential to samyama: dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (effortless concentration), samadhi (absorption or oneness). Samyama requires that you move through each of these stages in order to move your consciousness into an “expanded” state wherein you are aware of and open to its nature (but still present, i.e. awake). It’s a doorway to “knowing” everything there is to know/experience about the universe. Samyama is the process of focusing on one thing in order to know it through meditation. Simply, we can call it meditating “on” a thing, remembering that in this case meditating means allowing clarity to emerge rather than thinking really hard about something.
So, if you decide you want to know what it’s like to be as strong as an elephant, you can practice samyama on an elephant’s strength and you’ll be all set.
This does seem a little far fetched and to be sure, we aren’t certain whether or not these siddhis (paranormal abilities, e.g. using samyama to know the strength of an elephant) as described in the sutras are meant to be understood metaphorically or literally, but for most of us, it is their metaphorical value that is of more immediate use. That said, I kind of like the idea that I can know the deep ease of my slumbering cats simply by meditating on the qualities of their ease.
And to a point, we can meditate via the information we pull in through our senses, which is how I imagine I can get inside my cat’s experience through my own. The tricky part is that while we take in so much through our senses, what gets through to the processing of the brain is partially determined by our focus, our biases, and previous experiences. The “thinking” brain then makes use of those tidbits as if they were the whole story. But what if I were to clear my mind of the influence of habits and biases and could begin to process all the sensory information? Could I take in the sight of complete relaxation in my cat and know it?
At that level of mastery of focus, I believe the information of my senses (not just the five, but the more subtle ones as well) might just be enough to comprehend the language and quality of my cat’s naptime. Come as it would through personal experience, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to prove my knowledge to anyone else, but that would be just fine as long as I don’t let my knowledge go to my head or my ego. With humility and consciousness ever present, though, I can make use of my experience to enrich my life as suits me. Not to be superhuman –just human will do nicely.
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
The Yoga Sutras are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts. Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.