While it may not have been the sort of event to attract major network coverage and six-figure sponsorship from, say, Bud Light, the first North American "yogic flying" competition in Washington, D.C. was a milestone for followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. India's venerable proponent of Transcendental Meditation (and erstwhile Beatles guru), the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi revived a centuries-old yogic technique in 1976 and disclosed the mysteries of hopping to his devotees. He contends that "brain-wave coherence" can liberate one from the bonds of gravity, but rarely has anyone beyond his TM circle ever been invited to witness such wonderments. Not, that is, until the Maharishi meditated on the alarming rise in terrorism and the rumblings among world powers.
As Dr. Bevan Morris, president of the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, explains it, yogic flying produces positive energy that can defuse dangerous stresses between nations. The Maharishi concluded that a public demonstration might serve as a kind of call to arms for the world's pacifists. Accordingly, the press was invited to watch as advanced practitioners demonstrated their prowess in Stage One, hopping. Yet to be viewed in public are Stage Two, hovering, and Stage Three, free flight—something the Maharishi "could do if he wanted to," says Morris.
Blaine Watson, a 31-year-old TM teacher from Canada, was rewarded with a red rose for his record-setting high jump of 24.75 inches. The feat seemed easier to achieve than to explain. "At the moment of maximum coherence in brain-wave activity brought about by meditation, the body effortlessly lifts up," Watson said. "At the top of a hop, the energy bubbles up inside. You feel such wonder, such joy...and then you're flying."
Eddie Gob, 27, a TM teacher from the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, was the yogis' own Carl Lewis—winning no fewer than three events out of four. After a few minutes of meditation, he lifted off and hopped over six-inch foam hurdles to finish a 25-meter course in 11.53 seconds. Legs tightly folded in the lotus position, he also took the 50-meter dash at 23.33 seconds and the long jump at 70 inches. "You do not feel tiredness or bored-ness," he said later. "You just want to go on and on."
Watson, Gob and other followers of the Maharishi will participate in an international yogic flying competition in New Delhi later this month, and they say that Stage Three—if not world peace—is just a shadow away. "It will happen soon, very soon," Watson predicts. "I'll be flying in the next few weeks or months."
It was one of the odder Olympiads in memory: Twenty-two finalists wearing identical green T-shirts and white drawstring pants were seated cross-legged on thick foam mats at the Washington Convention Center, meditating before a hushed crowd of about 1,000 happy spirits who had failed to make the cut. After an official had commanded, "Gentlemen, let the competition begin," nothing happened. For a moment—then a longer moment—there was only the sound of one hand clapping. Then the competitors began to twitch. And shake. And twist. And lo, they propelled themselves into the air, bouncing ever higher. Wreathed in beatific smiles, they hopped and they hopped—powered only by their belief in a universal consciousness. Or so they said.