Desperately Seeking Samadhi: The 8 Steps Of Achieving Universal Enlightenment
Looking to make sense of the world? Want to take both your self and your yoga practice to a new level of universal consciousness? Achieving samadhi, also known as union with the divine, is considered the highest goal of yoga and it's synonymous with reaching enlightenment.
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 most important part of striving for this mythic level of universal enlightenment lies not in the actual achievement of samadhi, but in the valuable work leading up to it.
The following steps to achieving samadhi 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. Here's an introduction to each one and how they can all ladder up to enlightenment.
1. Yamas: Guidelines for universal morality
Sanskrit for: regulation / abstention
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.
2. Niyamas: Roadmap of personal practices
Sanskrit for: vow / observance
The Yamas and the Niyamas set the groundwork for mastering external challenges. The former is focused on purifying human nature and the latter governing our personal actions to ensure a soulful lifestyle.
3. Asanas : Physical postures
Sanskrit for: staying / abiding
Asana are the poses that most people think of when they think of yoga: Downward dogs, sun salutations, etc. Beyond improving health, balance, flexibility, and strength, asanas also exercise the mind. 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.
4. Pranayama: Breathing regulation
Sanskrit for: 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.
5. Pratyahara: Sensory control
Sanskrit for: withdrawal from sensory nourishment
Asana focuses the body, pranayama focuses the mind, and pratyahara focuses the senses. In this step, 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.
6. Dharana: Concentration by cultivating perceptual awareness
Sanskrit for: 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 its attention on one thing.
Quite simply, Dharana helps to focus your attention in one direction instead in all of them. A blade of grass? The tip of your nose? Your iPhone? The object or entity matters not. By being able to efficiently engage whatever you do in a mindful manner, the stage is set to become fully present.
7. Dhyana: Devotion and meditation on the divine
Sanskrit for: worship / meditation
Meditation can be downright impossible sometimes. But 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 and quieted your mind.
8. Samadhi: Union with the divine
Sanskrit for: to bring together / becoming one
Samadhi is what happens once the path between the body and the mind is cleared. 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.
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