This is part eight of “Following the Eight-Limbed Path”, a series about Ashtanga yoga, read part seven here
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment.” ~ Lao Tzu
The quote above sums up the main reason practice yoga: to get to know myself. To be more aware and always grow, improve, and learn along the way. I might not reach enlightenment in this lifetime but it’s always nice to work towards something, the journey itself is worth the effort.
The final, elusive piece
The final step in the eight-limbed path of Yoga, samadhi, means “to bring together, to merge.” It basically means that you connect with the divine, a higher force, you reach enlightenment. In the state of samadhi, the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, but the mind is alert — awake — one goes beyond consciousness.
You may wonder: “so after following the first seven steps I reach enlightenment?” Well, it’s not something all of us will be able to reach in this lifetime. I believe that just a few of us actually reach enlightenment. But like with anything, it’s the journey, not the destination, that is actually the most important part.
How do you know if you have reached the state of samadhi?
The achievement of samadhi is difficult. That is why the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali, suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana (concentration of the mind), because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.
Have you ever met someone and thought “Wow, this person doesn’t need to practice yoga. This person is yoga just by being.” I have met two people like that in my life. Neither of them were yoga practitioners, they were just in harmony with themselves. I can’t say if they were enlightened or not, but I truly felt that they had reached a state beyond consciousness. Both of them brought this peaceful energy that many yoga practitioners are seeking. Maybe they didn’t need to use asana or pranayama as tools; maybe they found other tools to reach that state of harmony.
The highest form of yoga
Samadhi refers to the concept of “union”, what we know as true yoga. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have ceased, and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.
I would love to reach samadhi, but the realist in me says it may not happen this lifetime. But if it does, I will happily embrace the peace and joy that follow. I’m definitely working towards this state, but first I have to be able to focus and concentrate my mind on reaching the state of dharana, the sixth limb. To do so, I will to keep doing my asana practice with correct breathing technique, keeping the yamas and the niyamas in mind.
This is why I practice, to work on myself, to improve and to be more aware. Yoga does not seek to change us as individuals; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality. In the end, it is not about changing. It is more about becoming the person you always were always meant to be.
Written by Anastasia Konstadinidis