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Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

This piece was originally published in the OWY newsletter in January of 2014.

Previously I talked about pratyahara. As a quick review the 8 limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yamas (external restraints)
  2. Niyamas (internal observances)
  3. Asana (postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absorption)

I started writing this week’s newsletter about dharana, but I’ve decided to cover the last three limbs together. The reason being that they are interconnected and subjective, or experiential. We describe what they are or what is involved in them, but unlike a breathing technique or physical posture we can’t demonstrate these.

In my experience where the proof is in how people who practice these last four limbs act in their lives. It’s like exercise. When we see people who workout regularly they look in shape. They are muscular, lean, and don’t lose their breath easily. We can also watch them take the actions which give them these results. They can easily demonstrate what they do for us.

Similarly, we can see the results of practicing these last four limbs in the actions of those who practice them. Those who practice regularly are true gifts to the world and those around them. But no one can walk us through the exact process of dharana, dhyana and samadhi. We can only talk about it. We can give suggestions and relate experiences. We can try different techniques others have used. But no one can come over to us as we sit, adjust our hips or our neck, and get us into dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

With that said, dharana is concentration, dhyana is meditation, and samadhi is absorption (whatever that means). We all know concentration. The techniques we begin to use to withdraw our senses, like paying attention to our breath or a part of the body or a mantra, are what we concentrate on. In yoga this concentration means the object of concentration is all that we hold in mind.

Extremely difficult to do. It takes practice and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to a point where can I sit and over an entire half an hour or so not have a single thought that takes me away from what I’m concentrating on.

Meditation in yoga is a little different than the generalized term we regularly hear. It has more specificity. In general usage there are a lot of things that are considered meditation. There is walking meditation, my tai chi teacher use to say that the form was our meditation, and I’ve heard some yoga practitioners say that their asana practice is their meditation. In the eight limbs though, meditation is a level above concentration. Instead of a focused attention on the object of concentration, there is an identification with it. I’ve heard it described as the object and the person are one.

Again this is experiential, and descriptions may vary. I believe I have reached this state a few times. It’s peaceful, there is no longer that ever nagging mind (though it does like to try to whisper to me still to get my attention), and the importance of all of life’s cares is not there. Only whatever I am concentrating on.

Samadhi is absorption, sometimes referred to as God consciousness. I like the term super consciousness myself. It’s described as being one with all, and in many various other ways. Getting further into yogic philosophy there are many levels of samadhi, and I am no expert on them so I won’t go into them here.

These last four limbs are the real deal of yoga for me. They are the practice that I believe has really changed my life and allowed me to roll with the punches and find happiness no matter what life may be giving me at any particular time.

Do you have a regular meditation practice? How are you with moments of silence? Do you become fidgety, or need to find something to occupy yourself with? Is there something you can do for yourself on a regular, or daily, basis to help elevate your level of consciousness (or more generally how you respond to the world)?

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