The Yoga Sutras, a kind of technical handbook for advanced yogis, covers just this sort of thing. Chapter three of this famous scripture lists the siddhis or super powers that great yoga masters may acquire. The list is long, starting with invisibility. It includes the ability to see the future, to know about things that are distant, levitate and similar powers that we read about in stories of spiritual masters. Some siddhis are surprising, like the ability to become as small as an atom. Think Antman. Or the ability to dissolve the material body and precipitate it somewhere else. Beam me up, Scotty.
As fun as these things are to think about, they are so strange and so difficult to attain that they are not relevant to our lives. Instead, I have been thinking about super powers that are truly important, and which we have a realistic chance of achieving though a disciplined practice of yoga.
I mean the super power to be happy. What good is invisibility if you are unhappy? How about the ability to control your anger? When that certain person presses your buttons, you could just smile. How about the ability to say the right thing spontaneously? I’ve witnessed spiritual teachers do just that during satsang, a Q&A with yoga students.
Once I had the unpleasant experience of telling bad news to a spiritual teacher. He had every right to be very angry with me. I watched him open his mouth as if to say something in anger and then suddenly close it and look at me blankly. It was astonishing to witness his self-control. Really, that is a super power.
Another time I was at a yoga center and walked around the corner to encounter the master. “Oh Swamiji,” I said, “what I can do for you?” He looked at me and said, “you want to know what you can do for me?” I nodded earnestly. “You want to know what you can do for me?” he repeated. I felt like I would burst. He said, “be happy; that’s what you can do for me.”
I was crestfallen. I was hoping he would say something like the bathrooms need cleaning. I could do that, scrub the toilets enthusiastically, but be happy? How the heck was I going to do that? I needed the super power.
As I practice yoga at the Atma Center and in my home practice, I am slowly getting better about feeling peaceful and grounded and aware. Yoga nidra, antar mouna, asana, mantra, pranayama… these tools help us manage the mind. I have a long way to go (I'm cussing with every typo) so I’m never going to fly, but if I can be a little happier, a little more patient, a little more compassionate, then I’ll be taking baby steps to acquiring the kinds of super powers that truly matter.
Mark Johnson is a long-time student of the Atma Center who recently completed Teacher Training.