Yoga Journal asked Nicki Doane, co-owner and director of Maya Yoga Studio in Maui, to share with us a teaching from each of the four chapters of the Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali this month. This week: How you can achieve samadhi, or equal states of consciousness, and how this can bring you into balance and improve your health.
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Samadhi Pada
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra is a compilation of 196 Indian sutras or aphorisms dating back to A.D. 400 that is considered one of the greatest yogic texts and key to understanding yoga philosophy. The Yoga Sutra is basically the psychology of yoga, or the “road map” for the yogi. The sutras are divided into four chapters, or padas. The first, Samadhi Pada, explains the lofty aims of yoga, such as "Yoga is the calming and quieting of all the self-limiting tendencies of our own consciousness."
Why Samadhi Is Important to Your Health
The Yoga Sutras teach us not only what Samadhi is, but how to get to it. Now you may be asking, what is Samadhi? The Sanskrit word samadhi is made up of two terms, sama meaning equal and even, and adhi meaning to adhere or stick with. When you put them together they mean equal states of consciousness and the joining of all aspects of our being: physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional. It also means supreme bliss, super consciousness, and enlightenment. I was just talking to an old friend the other day and he told me how he wanted to get healthy again. I told him there is no time like the present to reclaim your health and he asked me, “Are you talking about mental or physical health?” I replied that they are connected and we need to treat our health from all aspects: physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional. So, the question is where and how do we begin?
5 Steps for Achieving Samadhi
I have come up with 5 steps that will lead you toward the state of samadhi and help you feel balanced and well on all levels of your being.
Make a commitment to take a moment every single day to tell yourself something that you are grateful for and appreciate. Not a laundry list, just one thing. If you end up thinking of more than one, good for you! Here's mine: Today I am grateful for my parents, who truly love me unconditionally and would do anything for me.
Conscious breathing or pranayama as it's known in Sanskrit is one of the most “in the moment” things we can do. There is simply nothing more present or in the moment than our breath. I like to begin my day (sometimes before I even get out of bed) by taking 3–5 minutes to center myself with my breath—just observing it and breathing slowly and calmly through my nose. I once read about a conscious breathing technique by Mr. Iyengar that I have never forgotten. He said, "Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Take a slow deep breath in through your nose and pause at the top of inhalation for a moment. Then, exhale completely through your nose. Repeat for 5 minutes.” Focus on the sound of your breath and relax your jaw, your teeth, tongue, and lips. So simple and so effective at calming the mind.
See also The Science of Breathing
Samadhi is sometimes called self-realization. For years, I tried so hard to understand what that truly meant and I was embarrassed that I didn’t get it. And then a few years ago, it came to me. Self-realization means getting to know yourself better. In the process, you learn to love yourself more. It’s about accepting where you are today at this very moment and moving from a place of honesty. Tolerance is needed so much in the world today and very much here in our own country as well. It starts at home in our own mind. When we can move from a place of truth and acceptance of ourselves, we can begin to accept and respect others.
The Yoga Sutra says we need to relax the intensity of our effort and meditate on the endless energy within. Personally, I have found this sutra to be a constant reminder to slow down and remember that not everything can be done in a day. It really helps me to stay more in the flow of life.
Samadhi is equality. Take time to nurture each aspect of your being. Do things that feed your mind, like signing up for that class that you always wanted to take. Do things that feed your soul, like volunteering at an animal shelter or a nursing home. Do something that feeds your emotions, like making time to see an old friend.
It only makes sense that we would sit for meditation in seated postures such as Lotus Pose or Easy Pose to contemplate Samadhi.
Lotus Pose (Padmasana): Sit down on your yoga mat. Bend your right leg and place your right foot at the top of your left thigh. Bend your left leg and place your left foot at the top of your right thigh. It may be more comfortable to sit on a blanket or a block. If there is any pain in either knee, try placing a folded blanket under the knee. If that doesn’t help and the pain persists, use the variation below (Easy Pose) instead. Sit up tall and place your hands on your thighs and breathe slowly and freely through your nose for several minutes until you feel calm and centered. Close your eyes if that is comfortable.
Easy Pose (Sukhasana): Sit on your mat with a folded blanket under your bottom. Cross your legs just above the ankles and allow your knees to rest on the floor. If there is pain in either knee, place a blanket under the knee to relieve it. Sit up tall and rest your hands on your thighs. Close your eyes and breathe freely through your nose for a few minutes.
Even when gift wrapping and pie baking edge out asana and meditation on your to-do list, there is still always an opportunity to connect with your truest Self. Follow us all month on Facebook and Instagram for spiritual inspiration and share how you #stokeyourspirit.