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Yoga Sutras for Modern Day Life: Quantum Physics Meets Yoga?

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:19 Among the bodiless ones and the ones absorbed in prakrti, there is intention of coming ind being.


Defining the Sutra


This post may require a suspension of your disbelief. But then again, so does yoga. The thought that there are bodiless beings sounds just as crazy as the idea of Samadhi or getting rid of non essential thought. To help us to fully understand this verse, I have brought in Greg Nardi, authorized level 2 Ashtanga teacher and avid student of the sutras and Gregor Maehle, author of many popular books on Ashtanga and Yoga, such as, “Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy and “Pranayama, the Breath of Yoga”. Unless specified, the views presented are those of the Ashtanga Picture Project and the view of one individual is not necessarily the view of the other participants. A whole book could be written on this sutra alone, so for brevity, it definitely has been over simplified.



Greg Nardi
Greg Nardi


Gregor Maehle
Gregor Maehle


Lets just start with something we all use every day that we cannot see.  If you would have told someone in the 1700’s that you can use something invisible called “wi fi” to read something called the “internet” they would have thought you were absolutely insane. However, around the 1800’s some crazy person started to play with the idea of there being waves that you couldn’t see that could send signals to people. Thank goodness that crazy person ran with the idea and we can now listen to the radio in our cars and log onto the computer in random places all over the world.

Another area of unseen energy, many people can relate to, is Quantum physics. You may have watched, “What the Bleep Do We Know” or seen specials on BBC and the Discovery Channel  hosted by popular physicist, Michio Kaku.


Michio Kaku
Michio Kaku


Quantum physics explains the behavior of matter and  energy on an atomic and sub atomic scale.

“If quantum mechanics hasn’t profoundly shocked you, you haven’t understood it yet. Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” – Niels Bohr


Quantum mechanics is really too complex to sum up in this article and way above my pay grade or education level. For the purpose of this article, Quantum Mechanics says that,

“what we can observe about the world is only a tiny subset of what actually exists”-Sean Carrol


Now that I have provided those examples, don’t get caught up on them. The are simply there to help you suspend your disbelief for a minute. Let just toy with the idea that maybe, just maybe, there are bodiless beings that we cannot see. Why is Patanjali even bringing this up? This verse continues the discussion on objectless Samadhi. For more on this, go to previous installments of this series. A very oversimplified definition of objective Samadi is a state of freedom from all non essential thought that is not attached to a particular object or circumstance. It is absorption.

sutra I.18: “The other state (objectless samadhi) results from the intention of cessation of the fluctuations of the mind and leaves only residual subconscious imprint.” The wording is tricky; but what Patanjali means is that, by stilling the mind, our subconscious imprints (i.e., our conditioning) will be moved from the manifest state to the residue state. This means we are free of them, and although a residue of these imprints remains (without which we could not function), we have become free from slavish and robotic adherence to them-Gregor Maehle

Patanjali begins to talk about ways to come by objectless Samadhi. One of those ways is to be a bodiless one.



Who are the bodiless ones?

There are two common views on the bodiless ones. They are Gods or beings without bodies or a feeling of oneness we feel once we stop identifying with our bodies.  First I asked Greg and Gregor about gods/beings.

Greg Nardi: Perhaps Patanjali was talking about gods.  The question is what was a god to Patanjali?  Once I’ve drawn some reasonable conclusions, then I might be better able to determine if this is useful for me or not, is it tenable based on subsequent discoveries about the world.  Here are some points to consider.

  1.  Honestly,  modern science tells us that the world we see with our senses is simply not the whole truth of how the universe works.  Our senses are simply not equipped to detect the full spectrum of reality.  It’s also possible that the average untrained mind isn’t equipped to  understand it.  That’s why scientists undergo years of training just to be able to contemplate and infer reality that is beyond our senses through mathematics and then test it through experimentation and still there are mysteries.  Clearly scientists don’t tend to label super sensory phenomenon as gods, but perhaps Patanjali and early yogis did so in an effort to explain phenomena that was non-material.  From my limited understanding of physics,  it seems as though ideas such as “sting theory” and “multiverse” postulate other dimensions or realms in an effort to come up with a unified theory of everything that exists.  Of course these theories are strongly debated, but this sounds strikingly like an elegant model that has significant overlap with mysticism.
  1.  When philosophy and mythology overlap, I tend to look back to the history and try to understand what the mythology might symbolize and how was it used to understand and explain cultural experience. What social, political, and natural phenomenon were at play and may have shaped the form of the inquiry and expression that I am trying to understand.  What was the language of the day and who was the audience?

Gregor Maehle: as a rule of thumb ‘videha’ means bodiless entities, whatever they may be.

This is an entity that does not have a body and, although it shouldn’t be “here,” it can’t help but fiddle around with the minds of embodied beings. I don’t intend to say that all channelled entities are crooks, but we should not trust each strange voice that comes to us. As one of my teachers once said, “Just because they are dead, doesn’t mean they’re smart.”

Then the idea of the bodiless ones being humans that are one with the world or with nature.



Greg Nardi: I’ve heard modern interpretations of this sutra which indicate the videhas and prakritilayas are simply embodied beings who are born with an innately different set of values and identities.  For instance, a bodiless one is one born without attachment to their body and a prakritilaya is one born with an affinity to nature.  I personally find these interpretations unsatisfying.

 Gregor Maehle: The second state Patanjali talks about is called prakrtilaya, which means “absorbed in prakrti.” Prakrti is the Divine creative force. We could loosely translate prakrtilaya as, “being one with everything.” Many people who had spontaneous mystical experiences describe them in those words. I don’t want to take the fun out of mystic dabbling, but consider the long-term consequences of being “one with everything.” That ‘everything,’ the world, is in constant flux. All objects and manifestations are moving from the seed state to the manifest state and then into the residue state. They are all comprised of compounds and thus all fall apart and disintegrate. Further, there is a lot in this world that you don’t want to be “one with,” especially the unsavory side of humanity. Patanjali and yogis in general say the path is not to become ‘one with everything,’ but to abide in consciousness (aware of everything, yet knowing itself to be different).

Why Is It Important?

I am not going to lie. I had no clue why this was important. Other than informational. However, Gregor Maehle sees the bodiless state as a “spiritual cul de sac”. Patanjali mentions this because it is something that aspirants should be looking for and aware of.



Gregor Maehle: A videha is a very powerful being that has experienced transformative objectless samadhis but has not gone through states in the right order or has dabbled in spontaneously arising mystical states without a disciplined approach. It’s not so much important to name examples for what exactly comprises a videha but it is important to understand

  1. how this state and the prakrti-layanam state (i.e. being-one-with-everything state) come about
  2. why we have to avoid them (i.e. because they both keep indulging in the grandeur of their own personality) and
  3. how to avoid them, i.e. by practising the preparing objective samadhis in the right order

Look closely at the following passage from the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra, sutra I.17: “Objective samadhi is associated with deliberation (vitarka), reflection (vichara), ecstasy (ananda), and I-am-ness (asmita).” This means there are four main stages of objective samadhi that need to be practiced sequentially (two of which are further subdivided). Keep in mind that samadhi has quite technical successive levels, similar to asana, pranayama, Kundalini meditation, and pretty much anything else that carries the name yoga.

In sutra I.19, things become very interesting. It states that “Among the bodiless ones and the ones absorbed in prakrti, there is the intention of becoming.”

He (Patanjali)  lists two states, two types of objectless samadhi that he considers traps and spiritual cul-de-sacs. I won’t concern you too much about these traps, because the next stanza provides the means of avoiding them. With that in mind, let’s have a quick look at the two states. What they have in common is “the intention of becoming.” In other words, we still want to get somewhere, to become somebody. This is particularly true if we still use charisma and personal power to impress others. In sutra I.18, the terminology “intention of cessation” means (in devotional language) that we are giving up the illusion of individual will to fulfill the will of the Divine. Intention of cessation means, “not my will, but thy will.” To hand oneself over to the Divine plan, to let the Divine work through you, means you have “the intention of cessation of personal egotism or will. To let go of personal ego or will means to fulfill one’s duty (svadharma), rather than doing whatever one pleases.

The two problematic states in sutra I.19, however, indicate that we are deluded by our power and use mystical insight for our own egotistical purposes; that is, the “intention of becoming” somebody or something. This implies we are on the spiritual career ladder.



Modern Day Applications

This is what I took from this conversation:

  • We want to maintain a connection with the world while still living fully as seemingly separate beings.
  • That objectless Samadhi comes with a feeling of not needing to be anyone or anything. There is no sense of arriving or becoming. You just are. Everything else is just a role to take on and off during the play of existence.
  • Every time I read the Sutras, I get a new understanding and another rabbit hole opens
  • If you get a chance to be a bodiless one, maybe you shouldn’t take it….LOL


For more information from Greg Nardi, Visit Ashtanga Yoga World Wide

For more information from Gregor Maehle, visit and ChintamaniYoga

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail