Once in class, while trying to get my arms up during Prasarita Padottanasana C (no hopes for “over” and “down to the floor” for me, just “up” with merely a slight forward bend) my instructor said that the first time she was able to touch her clasped hands to the floor, she felt like she “went out of her body”. Lucky her! Wouldn’t that be cool! I thought to myself. Maybe someday.
Could her experience – possibly – be akin to the experiences of early Vedic writers and yogis who practiced strange and difficult postures as part of their spiritual development?
The yoga sutras III.39 “bandhakarana saithilyat pracara samvedanat ca cittasya parasariravesah” (Through relaxation of the causes of bondage, and the free flow of consciousness, the yogi enters another’s body at will.) and III.40 “udanajayat jala panka kantakadisu asangah utkrantih ca” (By mastery of udana vayu, the yogi can walk over water, swamps and thorns without touching them. He can also levitate.) – seem to tenuously address something like “being out of one’s body”.
What science research studies today – unknown to the ancient sages who may have experienced such states – are the various brain systems that can give rise to such experiences. The fancy scientific terms for hallucinations of separating from one’s body are heautoscopy and autoscopy and go by other more common terms such as doppelganger or just “out of body experiences”. As reported in, “Brain electrodes conjure up ghostly visions“ (Nature, 2006) and in “Electrodes trigger out-of-body experience” (Nature, 2002):
Simple stimulation of the brain can cause the mind to play complex and creepy tricks on itself, neurologists have discovered. They found that, by inserting electrodes into a specific part of the brain [left temporoparietal junction], they could induce a patient to sense that an illusory ‘shadow person’ was lurking behind her and mimicking her movements.
People describe out-of-body experiences as feeling that their consciousness becomes detached from their body, often floating above it. … Blanke found that electrically stimulating one brain region — the right angular gyrus — repeatedly triggers out-of-body experiences. … The right angular gyrus integrates visual information — the sight of your body — and information that creates the mind’s representation of your body. This is based on balance and feedback from your limbs about their position in space.
So, the whole proposition of “out of body” seems less far-fetched to me, perhaps there are possibilities to experience such states of mind – more plausible under conditions of neurological pathology – rather than during yoga practice. But, something to meditate on in the years to come.