We have reached the final two steps of the eight-limb path of yoga as outlined in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras – dhyana and samadhi. If you missed the first six steps, check out the blog posts for the Yamas and Niyamas, Asana and Pranayama, and Pratyahara and Dharana.
Dhyana means "contemplation, reflection." The previous limb, dharana, involves focusing on one thing. The mind is still active, because there is an awareness of the observer and of the object of observation. Dhyana is being completely present, and leads to a state of Atman, which can be described as your higher self or soul. In this state, time seems to stand still.
While dhyana is often used interchangeably with meditation, meditation is the pathway to reach the state of dhyana. During meditation, the space between your thoughts is the gap. Dhyana can be described as slipping into the gap, or glimpsing the soul. This is the space of infinite possibilities.
You cannot will yourself into this state. Michelle Fondin, in her article about dhyana at Chopra.com, says “The greater you seek it, the more it will slip away from you. Your preparedness for the seventh limb of yoga will come with the consistent practice of the other six limbs. Then, like a lotus flower unfurling in readiness, dhyana will seek you.”
The first seven steps prepare us to reach the final limb, samadhi. Samadhi is derived from the Sanskrit roots; sam meaning "together," a meaning "toward" and dhe meaning "put." Samadhi is considered to be the state in which individual and universal consciousness unite.
Samadhi is the culmination of the meditation process. It’s the mind in its most concentrated state – when awareness of the meditator, process of meditation, and the object of meditation all merge into one.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes many stages of samadhi. In the earlier stages, there is still some distinction between the meditator and the object of meditation. In the final stages, there is only consciousness.
In this final state, you move beyond the intellect, and into the tranquility of a settled or pure (sattvic) mind. This is often described as a state of blissfulness and joyful peace. People report having little to no awareness of the physical body, seeing light while the eyes are closed, or a loss of all sense of self, time, and space.
While some might use the term enlightenment to describe this state, there is a difference. Enlightenment typically refers to a lasting state of transcending the mind, but samadhi is a temporary state. This temporary state may only last for seconds, minutes, or hours.
As with dhyana, samadhi can’t be forced or willed into being. The best approach is to create the conditions for samadhi and then yield, or simply allow it to occur. You create the environment by practicing the first seven limbs on the path.
If you’ve enjoyed this series of posts about the eight-limb path of yoga, join me for the Yogic Path four-part online series that I’m hosting in October. Each week, we’ll focus on two steps of the path with discussion and practices to get more acquainted with how each applies in your life. Learn more and register on the Fall Events page. I hope you can join me!