Looking to make sense of the world? Want to take both your sense of Self and your yoga practice to a higher level of universal consciousness? Well, look no further than this inspirational list of 8 Steps towards achieving Samadhi, also known as Union With the Divine.
The following steps are taken from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, one of yoga's most sacred and informative texts. Seasoned yogis may recognize them as the eight-limbed path which lays the framework for a holistic yoga practice. Good for you, seasoned yogi. Your philosophy classes have paid off. Hopefully, mine have too.
1) Yamas: Guidelines for Universal Morality (Sanskrit: "regulation" / "abstention")
2) Niyamas: Roadmap of Personal Practices (Sanskrit: "vow" / "observance")
These first two steps combine to create what can be considered as the '10 Commandments of Yoga'. Featuring such gems as Compassion, Truth, Discipline,, Purity and Self-Examination, all yogis stand to gain great insight by studying these basics of the spiritual practice. The Yamas and the Niyamas set the groundwork for mastering external challenges, the former focused on purifying human nature and the latter governing our personal actions to ensure a soulful lifestyle.
3) Asanas : Physical Postures (Sanskrit: "staying" / "abiding")
Essentially, you can't rock the body with out the body rock. The practice of asana has obvious physical benefits; most visibly, the movements we commonly refer to as yoga improve health, balance, flexibility, and strength. Asana is much more than just choreographed movement. To truly master the body's relationship to asana, the intrepid yogi must learn to control the emotions, intentions, beliefs, and truth that is tested during the physical practice. No rush. No competition. No judgement. No fidgeting. You should, thankfully, feel free to sweat and breathe as much as you'd like.
4) Pranayama: Breathing Regulation (Sanskrti: "Control of Prana [Life Force]")
Our breath is the one unifying thread with us from the day we're born until the day we die. So easily taken for granted, Pranayama is a valuable practice that brings both a grateful awareness of breath while offering a set of powerful tools by which to strengthen it. The breath is the fuel, the body the engine. Where asana is a tune-up for the machinations of the body, pranayama ensures the use of only high-octane awesome to keep the body moving smoothly.
5) Pratyahara: Sensory Control (Sanskrit: "Withdrawal from Sensory Nourishment")
Asana focuses the body, pranayama focuses the mind, pratyahara focuses the senses. Here we are given the opportunity to learn how to focus the senses internally, away external objects and stimuli. By removing the link between the mind and the senses, we can be more present within ourselves to observe the subtle machinations of our lively minds. Basically, one turns on their mind's airplane mode and turns off the wifi on the brain-computer to get some work done without any distractions. Is this a good thing? Yes. Does that mean it's going to be easy? Ha.
6) Dharana: Concentration by Cultivating Perceptual Awareness (Sanskrit: "Immovable Concentration of the Mind")
By this point, you've gone deep down the rabbit hole. You're kicking asana left and right, breathing with masterful intention, and have gotten pretty good at tuning out all that static to find a direct connection to your mind. Now it's time to work on calming that monkey mind by focusing it's attention on one thing. A blade of grass? The tip of your nose? Your iPhone? The object or entity matters not. Quite simply, Dharana helps to focus your attention in one direction instead in all of them. By being able to efficiently engage whatever you do in a mindful manner, the stage is set to become fully present.
7) Dhyana: Devotion, Meditation on the Divine (Sanskrit: "Worship" / "Meditation")
Meditation can be downright impossible sometimes. You try to clear your mind, to simply observe the breath. BLAMMO!! Stray thoughts pop up. The crush you had in middle school, a dog you saw being walked on your way to class, the news from last night. Anything, everything... that is, everything except nothing (which is the one thing you're really striving for). Whereas the practice of Dharana helps to filter all the extra noise out of your consciousness, Dhyana is the unbroken stream of concentration that flows forth once you've cleared the path.
8) Samadhi: Union with the Divine (Sanskrit: "To Bring Together" / "Becoming One")
What happens once the path between the body and the mind is cleared? Samadhi is described as state of "non-duality" where the self and the world around it are (finally) perceived as one and the same. Effectively transcending the limits of the body, mind, and identity, the aspiring yogi becomes one with everything. Common side-effects are boundless peace, a profound detachment from time, freedom from suffering, and an over-arching sense of well-being.
The catch is that in order to fully embrace Samadhi, one must redefine their individual sense of self (aka the EGO). Look at this in two ways: either strip away all layers of individuality until nothing remains or expand understanding of Self to involve all of creation. No big deal, right? To some, this sounds incredibly scary. To others, extremely welcome. It's easy to become trapped in self-rejection when trying to make sense of non-duality vs. individuality. One powerful thing to remember that we still need to live in this world regardless of how enlightened we may become. A good friend of mine says it best: Samadhi requires we understand our being human and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
All of this is totally possible. In fact, you may have already experienced Samhadi on some level for a brief moment already without even knowing it. Perhaps while devouring that delicious burger (intense food focus) last night, maybe during that packed yoga class on Tuesday where you finally nailed a perfect crow. It might have even occurred as you walked home from work yesterday, enjoying a perfect spring evening without a thought in your head. Talk about pure bliss.
No matter the reason, understand the most important part of striving for this mythic level of universal enlightenment lies not in the actual acheivement of samadhi, but in the valuable work leading up to it. Personally, I think a little ME can go a long way as long as there is a good amount of US and WE to keep that active I in check.