As I anticipated the release of all of the Star Wars films on Disney+ for May the Fourth, I found myself continuously thinking about what the Star Wars universe taught me over the years. Geekdom or fandom in general is about connection with others. Whether you are cosplaying or posting theories on never-ending reddit threads, those of us who “nerd out” over fictional universes–be it Star Wars or any other– find connection with others because of our passion for all things geeky!
I’ve found myself, several times over, explaining to other people that I think Star Wars was truly my first introduction into yoga. My Dad and I watched A New Hope when I was about seven years old, and I immediately fell in love. I watched original trilogy over-and-over. I wanted to read comics and novels set in the same universe. I longed for toys, but alas, there weren’t many available in the early 90s. My how things have changed–unless you’re searching for Baby Yoda…Can you say SOLD OUT?
I digress… so, the force was awakened in me at a young age. But what was the force? And how was I to know that it was strong in me?
In Empire Strikes Back, Yoda tells Luke that “Life creates it (the Force), makes it grow…its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter [our bodies]. You must feel the Force around you, here, between you and me, the tree, the rock, everywhere…”
The force is something bigger than us. It connects us. When studying yoga, I found that the Force is akin to Prana – a concept in yoga of a universal energy that is all around us and that flows through our body. Prana is literally translated as ‘Life Force’. Prana, when around us, flows through what yogis believe to be the subtle body, along channels called nadis. When you practice yoga you are moving and connecting to Prana much like the jedi learn to harness the power of the Force. One of the ways a yogi taps into prana is through the breath–inhaling and exhaling the energy that binds us all together.
In The Last Jedi, Luke instructs Rey to access the force by first sitting in a yogi posture known as sukhasana – “sit here, legs crossed” – kindergarten teachers refer to it as criss-cross-applesauce. Sukhasana is often done at the beginning of a yoga practice and at the end when a yogi is trying to connect with their breath and let go of the world around them to enter a more meditative state. During Rey’s first lesson, she mistakenly tells Luke the Force is “a power that jedi have that lets them control people and make things float.” Luke correct her stating that the Force is “the energy between all things, the tension the balance that binds the Universe together.” Similarly, Obi-Wan Kenobi explains, “The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together.” This use of the Force – Prana, the breath – can be accessed with practice. This Force exists in all of us, and with training, we are able to grow our practice, like the Jedi training the access the Force.
In yogic tradition, it is important that the yogi lets go of the outside world. When meditating or practicing asanas, the yogi should be in the present. To engage in this practice, the yogi must let go mentally of that which distracts them, not only when on the yoga mat, but in their everyday life. Yoda explains to Obi Wan, “A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one (Luke) a long time have I watched. All his life he has looked away — -to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmmm? What was he doing? Hmph. Adventure, heh, excitement, heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” Luke struggles to believe in the Force, even when he begins to access it. Yoda repeatedly encourages Luke and explains that it takes practice and time to harness the energy and connect. In yoga, this is called abhyasa, which is a consistent practice done over a long period of time. The yogi must be patient and not allow frustration or anger to discourage them from committing to their practice. While training Luke, Yoda tells him to, “Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight…consume you it will.” Luke struggles to understand the light and dark forces and wants to know how he can find that he’s moving toward the light. Yoda reassures him that he will know when he is “calm and at peace.” This inner struggle with light and dark often happens as yogis learn to meditate; sometimes the practice can cause us to recall painful memories or to access and let go of our anger. It is the letting go that is most difficult for some, and this lack of letting go and not training to be the light is truly the path to the Dark Side.
Throughout the Star Wars films, books, comics, and television shows, various characters have struggled with both the dark and the light elements of the Force. The Jedi are not the only ones attempting to understand and harness it. Enter the Sith. In yogic philosophy, there are Yamas and Niyamas the yogi must observe and live by. The Yamas guide the yogi to become more self-aware and to let go and transform negative energy to find peace. When considering the practices of the Jedi, one of the yamas immediately comes to mind – aparigraha. Aparigraha is the last Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. It translates to non-greed and non-attachment. For the Jedi, this is a necessary practice to serve others and detach from possessions and avoid the fears associated with loss and jealousy. Master Yoda says, “The fear of loss is a path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.” This is one reason the Jedi Order does not allow Jedi to marry. Anakin Skywalker struggles with non-attachment several times throughout his trainings as a Jedi. For one, he is pained by the loss of his mother, which leads to anger, destruction, and death. As Anakin allows that anger to feed his actions, he moves further away from finding inner peace. He allows dreams and fears to dictate his actions, which ends up consuming him so much that his biggest fear, the loss of his wife Padme, happens even before her death. This inability to reconcile his emotions with the teachings of the Jedi (specifically, non-attachment) is what leads him to the dark side as he becomes Darth Vader.
Finally, I think it’s important to note that even George Lucas drew a comparison between the yoga and the Star Wars university in the 1980s!
From “Revenge of the Jedi” Story Conference Transcript, July 13 to July 17, 1981 with series creator George Lucas, writer Lawrence Kasdan, director Richard Marquand and producer Howard Kazanjian.
Kasdan: The Force was available to anyone who could hook into it?
Lucas: Yes, everybody can do it.
Kasdan: Not just the Jedi?
Lucas: It’s just the Jedi who take the time to do it.
Marquand: They use it as a technique.
Lucas: Like yoga. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it; but the ones that really want to do it are the ones who are into that kind of thing…
Whether you are a jedi or a yogi, focus on the light! Be the light. Keep practicing. Learn to let go. And on this extra special day,