Yoga Sutras – via an Elephant!


Elephant Practice

Chapter 3 Extraordinary Powers

Still inspired by Donna Farhi’s Heart Intensive I looked to Patanjali’s Sutras to theme my next class and landed on Chapter 3 Verse 34, 3.34: ‘By communion/saṁyama at the heart, knowledge [of the nature of] consciousness [is obtained].’* This hurtled my beginners mind back to the beginning of Chapter 3 to understand – at least a glimpse of – saṁyama. Perhaps the heart was a step too far, too soon, for students and myself when exploring this chapter on extraordinary powers.

Sketch of an elephant

Indian Elephant Wikimedia commons

I needed a tangible object to demonstrate and so I chose the elephant, 3.24, but more on that later, saṁyama first.

Accessing Divinity

This chapter on extraordinary powers reveals divinity as accessible, a result of the burning away of the ego through disciplined practice. It is not the actual powers that are valued, in fact it is more important to reach that place where you can remain focused and attentive no matter what extraordinary abilities develop.* The chapter itself is titled vibhūti/holy ash referring to both purity & detachment and it opens with, 3.1, a binding place of consciousness/concentration. We have thus entered into the wisdom of the fifth limb of yoga, dhāranā concentration on a single object or point; we then move to dhyāna meditation where the one who mediates is aware of the object and the ideas related to it in a single stream and we end with the final limb samādhi where any distinction between object/ideas [of] and the meditator have disappeared – the meditator is merged with the object and ideas of that object or subject.
3.4 reveals saṁyama in which the last three limbs are practiced simultaneously or are merged completely. Divine power flows and the object becomes manifest, becomes the practitioner. As the Dalai Lama offers in a prayer, ‘With our thoughts, we make our world…’ Thus it is wise to live with intention and clarity knowing that the universe will work through you and manifest what you practice at all times, all day – not just on the mat.

Elephant Practice

3.24
‘By saṁyama on the powers of elephants and [other such animals], their strength [is obtained].*

You might like to begin your practice with a counted breath focus either seated or in sivasana and introduce a contemplation on the merging of the last three limbs of ashtanga’s 8 limbs. The contemplation may be as simple as – ‘I make my world.’ Return to the breath and on your last exhale fully let go, saying in your mind – ‘I let go, I open space in my world for intention’.
Externalise the body fully aware of your physical form on the mat and roll to the right to come up to seated.

If it’s in your practice offer your prayer, make your intention, chant OM

Practice your asanas, but today take time to actually become each pose – I am warrior, cobra, sphinx etc. Play with truly merging with the object and the qualities of the object, or in deed, subject – if it is an extended leg pose try to merge with the benefits of the pose become the extended leg pose. Don’t excuse yourself because there is not an evident metaphor. Start with softness – move toward strength, easing away when your body speaks and slow with softness ending in sivasana – let the body be a corpse and access the flow of the divine to become the elephant.

Be an Elephant

For sivasana try this elephant practice:
Settle into your floor position – bring the breath in the navel centre – feel a rising of energy from the pelvic floor to the navel and simultaneously from the throat to the navel both energy flows meet at the navel x 6 With the exhale the energies return to their point of origin.
2. Watch this breath note it for temperature, depth, sensations in the body…
3. Release the prana/apana breath you have been practicing. Bring the mind to the eyebrow centre – Dharāna: think about an elephant the whole of an elephant the way the skin wrinkles at the R ear, L ear, how weighty its trunk, the small eyes, the R ear, L ear both ears together, the entire head, the torso and the weight of the torso, the L front leg, the R front leg, both front legs together, the R back leg, the L back leg, both back legs together, all the legs together, the feet, the roundness of the feet, the roundish-ness of the toenails – the whole elephant together. Full concentration on the whole elephant.
4. Dhyana: Draw into the mind the qualities of the elephant and meditate on these…it may be the strength, the memory, the sensitivity to sound, creativity, willingness to serve, obedience, touch, matriarchal/communal societies, groundedness, earth connection…any qualities of the elephant meditate on these…
5. Samadhi choose one or two of these qualities, bring them deep inside behind the eyebrow centre…let the qualities resonate there, in the beginning perhaps use one quality as a mantra. Then as you begin to merge your whole understanding of elephant right up until you are the elephant, embody those qualities you have chosen…if your mind wanders, as it inevitably does return again and again to your elephant word, your mantra…again and again…occasionally you may just ‘be’ elephant.

Elephant parts

Merge with all parts – be ‘elephant’

6. Very gently release your mantra and yet hold to the qualities you have infused within. Feel into your hand imagining it is as round as an elephants foot …and into your feet as though they two are round…then extend outward your own finger and toes opening them wide – feeling back into the physical body of you. Take your time and stretch as your body requests, bend knees, raise arms…respond to your external body as you need, then roll to your R side for a few breaths…before coming up to seated
6. Prana/apana breath as you settle into the upright, perhaps an Om Gam Ganapataye Namah or two.

Namaste

*Stars indicate referenced material Sutra translations from Govindan, Marshall., Kriya Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and read material Bachman, Nicolai., The Yoga Sutras Workbook. Any incorrect interpretations – the authors own.

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