alan little’s weblog

the yogi ain’t psychic

24th May 2007 permanent link

On the 'psychic' issue, one must understand that it does not mean that you are telling the future or anything particularly mystical. Like Ninjutsu it is simply a matter of seeing psychological events manifested physically and structurally. If you understand what you are looking at you can see what is coming and head it off even before it begins.
Nate Morrison on the Russian martial art Systema

Martial arts, sitting meditation, and yoga asana practice look superficially different. They key thing they have in common is this: they are all about paying attention to what is, not to what you want or expect.

In my brief and long-ago martial arts career, in which I reached the giddy heights of brown belt in shotokan karate, I at least had enough awareness to know that thinking too much was my problem when it came to sparring. Once or twice in kata competitions I have clear memories of a state where there was no outside world, no worrying, just the movement – but for me at the time that was just a gift that sporadically happened. I had no idea of how to systematically encourage or pursue it. High level practitioners, I imagine, are people who have learned how enter that state more or less at will.

Climbing was similar for me. Now and again I had no-gravity days where I could do things right at my or beyond my normal limits with complete calm, grace and poise. They are among my life’s clearest and most enduring memories. But again, they were rare and random. Also, they tended to happen most often when I put myself way out on a limb in situations where a mistake meant the hospital at least, and there are consequences if you play that particular game too often. The flow state isn’t guaranteed to come every time.

For me it took another decade of hard life experience, and the discovery that ashtanga vinyasa yoga felt right for me, before I was able to start learning to cultivate these states in a systematic way. Some very fortunate people find the practice that is right for them early in life. Other people like me find it later; we are fortunate too. At least we found it.

I will be adding Nate Morrison’s words to my collections of quotes, comments & thoughts on sutra iii.16 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

परिणामत्रयसंयमादः अतीतानागतज्ञानमः ॥ १६॥

iii.16 pariṇāmatrayasaṃyamādḥ atītānāgatajñānamḥ

By meditating … the yogi obtains knowledge of the past and the future.

Patanajali now starts to talk about siddhis, or apparently supernatural/superhuman powers than can arise as side effect of yoga practice. Getting caught up in these, pursuing them for their own sake, is the biggest obstacle to true yoga..

The yogi ain’t psychic, says David Williams – he’s just the one who’s been paying the most attention.

Experienced meditators perceive separate events that occur in a fast sequence better than non-meditators, apparently [pdf] because they process initial visual perceptions more efficiently and thus free up mental resources more quickly to be able to notice the second event.

related entries: Yoga

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