SAMYAMA is the term Patanjali uses in the Yoga Sutras for the last three of the eight stages of classical yoga: concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and enlightenment (samadhi). A necessary prerequisite to this is the fifth step – withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara). These constitute the “inner” part of yoga, dealing with the mind and consciousness itself. Samyama means integration. Practice alone is incomplete without integrating the work we do into our daily lives.
We build the foundation for samyama through practice of yoga postures and pranayama, as well as observing the ten guidelines for living (yamas and niyamas) such as nonviolence. Three of these are discussed under Kriya Yoga.
Until we learn to turn our attention inward there is little chance to observe our own minds and consciousness. And there is an endless array of distractions in the outer world calling out for our attention. So much so, that few people realize there is also an “inner world”. The mind (“monkey mind”) dominates our usual awareness and is easily distracted by sense objects and especially by our attachments and aversions. That is, we want to pursue and hold onto pleasure and prevent or retreat from pain. Who wouldn’t? This is quite normal but it’s not how the world works. The Buddha said that life is suffering and we can put an end to suffering by releasing our attachments.
It is through contacting this inner world that the intelligence of the universe expresses itself through us. It is necessary to have a regular practice of inner stillness in order to live more in this awareness and channel it into our actions. Pratyahara is a precursor to meditation and ultimately to samadhi. Eventually we learn to maintain an inner and outer awareness at the same time.
Once the senses are directed inward, the next step is to sustain unbroken focus of the mind on one object. Asana is a good object. So is breath or mantra. We have all experienced unbroken concentration when watching a movie or reading a book that is engaging. When we see extraordinary athletes or performers, they’ve got it. But we need to be able to apply this to all our endeavors. One to one relationship is a good place to practice. When we loose our concentration we simply take a breath and come back to the object of our attention. The technique is the same as the goal. Slowly improvement comes. And it takes practice. It also takes patience, clear intention, and a strong will to overcome the endless parade of sense objects competing for our attention. As we build energy through asana and other practices, the energy itself sustains our attention. This benefits every aspect of our lives from driving a car to relationships. We need to love the dharma (our path) more than we love the endless thoughts in our mind.
Meditation is observing the process (thinking) or the contents (thoughts) of the mind. It can not be understood by words alone – only through practice. Quite simply, we practice quieting the mind through any number of methods. We quickly realize the impossibility of this task and thereby become aware of the process (or contents) of the mind. At all other times we are totally engaged with these thoughts and thereby unable to be objective as thinking takes place. In fact we are virtually under a state of hypnosis engaged in thought for our entire lives. Thoughts become a trance in which we identify completely with our fantasies, emotions, and illusions. Of course thinking is necessary as well for our very survival. It is interesting that when our survival is threatened, we shift into a state of heightened awareness, very different from our ordinary state of mind. Why do we practice meditation? Only by this process do we come more into the present moment – into reality. The past and future are just intellectual concepts, however powerful (and useful) they may be. Body and mind come more into harmony creating a receptive place for the spirit to evolve. The practice of meditation is humbling because it takes us out of our illusions about ourselves. We come face to face with our shadow.These illusions we maintain for most of our lives because of our fear of reality. Yet meditation is empowering because it connects us with the river of life.
Samadhi refers to those moments when we experience a transcendence or a merging with all of creation. There are no words to describe this adequately, only the experience itself. We have all felt this in a beautiful nature setting for example, or with a small baby or puppy. Perhaps all of art is trying to give voice to this experience, in different ways. It is what yoga is for and what the word “yoga” means. It is when we merge with the Creator and are momentarily released from the seperation between Creator and creation (parusha and prakriti). However brief these moments are, they have a lasting effect and begin to change us at the deepest levels. Our understanding of spirit shifts from an intellectual concept to an experience that has (and needs) no words. The change in our world view and especially in our presence and actions is the fruit of the experience of samadhi, and of our practice in general. This doesn’t automatically make life easier but it does direct us into the flow of life, into the Tao. And we become more authentic. This is part of the appeal of many gurus and yoga masters whose presence is so transformed by their state of mind.
“Concentration is single pointed attention.
It modifies into meditation by being sustained in time, becoming all-pointed (or no-pointed) – equally diffused but with no drop in attentiveness.
Enlightenment is total absorption.
Prolonging these three aspects of yoga is samyama. Concentration brings stability in the mind, meditation develops maturity in intelligence, and enlightenment diffuses the consciousness.”