It’s with a bemused look on their faces that my teacher trainees answer the question: what are siddhis? They smile from one side of their lips and say, “the seemingly magical powers promised to devoted yogis by Patanjali’s Sutras”. It seems so crazy to them, and legitimately so, because most of them are still catching up to the idea that yoga is about more than stretching. It’s a conversation I love: where does magic reside in your practice?
Few people start their practice with the goal of bringing more magic to their lives. We know the reasons to initially get on the mat, and they’re often about elevating our experience to better rather than magical. Yet once we pass through that initial struggle of familiarizing and acclimatizing, it’s like looking up at the sun for the first time in spring: everything has a glow about it. We shed light into the dark aspects of our days.
We start to experience magic in each class: the atmosphere created by skillful teachers, the deep at-home-ness we finally feel in our skins. And then the magic seeps into our world, and all of a sudden the little moments of meanness and scarcity we may have allowed before are less frequent. This serenity accumulates to what psychologist Abraham Maslow called plateau experience, or the sustaining of a sense of sacredness to life. Yoga helps us develop a reverence for life as it is.
What about the very real problems we face in life? We all encounter pain, but some of us encounter real suffering. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs identifies our basic requirements “deficiency needs”: to be secure, fed, loved, and have community. Without these needs met, it is less likely to engage in “being needs”: the things that satisfy our soul and help us transcend our egoistic tendencies.
The real magic in this practice is not ignoring these needs in others, but rather seeing and acknowledging them, and then identifying what is within your power to do. Helping others fulfill their deficiency needs, whether it’s access to education, proper nutrition, self-care or community, is actually a proven route to fulfilling your being needs. Living rooted in realism and caring for others is magical, because this practice is meant for this realm, but people who aspire higher sustain it.