The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 8: Samādhi | समाधि)

Samadhi

Samadhi is the 8th and final limb of yoga. Samadhi is a state of concentrated meditation that transcends the intellect, mind, and body and complete detachment from the physical world (meaning consciousness becomes detached from the body). This final stage of yoga is also known as enlightenment and can be achieved in Corpse Pose, after meditation involving Dharana and Dhyana. In this state, the yogi can suspend consciousness away from the body, being at one with the environment and surroundings while not being limited to physical restraints of the body. Samadhi represents a state of enlightenment and over time the yogi obtains a ceaseless state of transcendent bliss.

In Buddhism, Samadhi is known as the 8th wheel of the eightfold path referring to right concentration. Buddhists believe that this right concentration leads to extraordinary intelligence and even superpowers. But these are simply distractions for the practitioner from the goal of Moksha, or liberation. Samadhi leads to a pleasantness in your current life, knowledge of the divine third eye by concentration on light, clear comprehension of the fluctuations of feelings, perceptions, and thoughts through mindfulness, and the elimination of the 5 Skandha’s (attachments to matter, sensation, perception, mental habits, and discernment). In Buddhism, Samadhi does not refer to enlightenment, rather a state of concentrated meditation that leads to enlightenment. Nirvana is enlightened freedom from attachment and Samsara through Moksha.

Samadhi is a state of supreme detachment, where consciousness is free to leave the body and can expand beyond the borders of the physical corpse of the consciousness. It is a supreme state of bliss that is experienced in Savasana, or in meditation after a yoga practice is completed. This is why you don’t skip Savasana! Meditate after your yoga practice, it is far more powerful after the body has been tempered. The sensations and insights that flow during these meditation can alter your perspective and even mental processes that can change. It is integral to the yoga practice to rest in Savasana and meditate; they are the most important things you can do to amplify the healing and regenerative qualities of yoga.

Samadhi is intricately related to consciousness. It can be described as full awareness, perfect concentration, or an altered state of consciousness characterized by ananda and sukha (bliss and joy). Vyasa, one of the authors of the Mahabharata, said ‘yoga is Samadhi’. It is ultimately complete control over the fluctuations of consciousness including distractions and normal functionality of the nervous system and conscious experience.

Patanjali said that Samadhi has three different aspects: Savikalpa, Asamprajnata, and Nirvikalpa. In Savikalpa the mind is still conscious and the imagination is active and the state can be described as holding onto the imagination with effort. Asamprajnata is a step forward from Savikalpa and is not quite gross awareness, but is a heightened state of conscious awareness. Nirvikalpa is the highest transcendent state of consciousness, the highest of the heights of yoga. It is an engrossing awareness where all things are one and pure unadulterated bliss, wholeness, and perfection are experienced. It is pure joy, freedom, and steady bliss in the knowledge of awareness.

Samadhi is like balancing blocks on top of one another, where it takes years to learn all of the nuances of each block and how they work together. Simply allowing the body to meditate is not enough; full concentration and focus is required to obtain the state of pure freedom.

The final liberation of the yogi comes at the time of death, known as mahasamadhi and is a controlled exit of the consciousness from the body to merge consciousness with the divine. Maha means great.

I would like to dedicate this post to BKS Iyengar, who died this morning, one of the greatest (yoga) teachers the world has ever known. My hope is that he found mahasamadhi in his last hours and that he has found the freedom and peace beyond. He brought yoga into the west and gave everyone seemingly limitless knowledge on even the most minuscule and minute details. He gave us in the west the opportunity to scale the heights of Raja yoga and changed the world for the better. Thank you.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 1: Yamas)

Yamas

Ashtanga yoga is more than exercise or meditation. It is a lifestyle, a way to live that allows for the body and mind to be free from pain and suffering and to be at peace. REAL yoga happens outside of the yoga room; Asana is only one part of real yoga, albeit a very important one. The true yoga begins off the mat, when you start interacting with your world, from strangers on a subway to your family and children at home. The 8 limbs of yoga is a guide to happiness, tranquility, peace, and ultimately freedom to transcend consciousness and realize god (enlightenment).

The first limb of yoga is no doubt the most foundational, the Yamas (ethical disciplines). These are universal principles, or rules for interacting with the world that lead away from stealing, violence, chaos, greed, and untruth. Essentially they are equivalent to the 10 commandments of Moses or the beatitudes of Jesus, but with the spin that these external rules will create room for detachment and constitute the first steps and foundation for yoga to expand within one’s consciousness. Yamas are like scaffolding that you are building your temple around, and keeps the temple sacred, clean, and free from outside destruction. In the same way the Yamas will keep your mind free from distraction and lead you to closer to enlightenment.

There are 5 parts of the Yamas, each of which is essential to success, though these concepts should be interpreted and applied to your own individual life. No two people will ever live the same life, therefore each individual must adapt the Yamas to their lifestyle. They are Ahisma (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), and Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Ahisma, (‘a’ means not and ‘hisma’ means violence) or non-violence, is probably the most important of the Yamas and is truly very difficult to achieve. Violence is not only physical and can occur within the mind creating distance from creatures and people we are meant to love. Ahisma is far more than just pacifism, non-violence, non-killing, or eating only vegetables; it means finding love and appreciation for all beings. This almost always means eating vegetarian, unless you grow your own animals and treat them with respect and love. Many people interpret Ahisma as vegetarianism, which is important for yoga, but it is also about appreciation for all beings (even the smallest ones!). Then love and true gratitude can flow like water for all the life that surrounds you. Freedom from fear and anger are also intrinsic to this Yama, known as Abhaya (‘a’ means not and ‘bhaya’ means fear) and Akrodha (‘a’ means not and ‘krodha’ means anger). A yogi truly has no fear because of the pure love and focus he brings to his own life and he realizes his own divine connection to all beings as well as his own gift of the body, which allows the yogi to treat all beings with respect, love, and peace.

Satya means truth. The divine exists only in truth, so it is necessary for a yogi to become truthful in all things, to make room for the divine in their life. One of the biggest aspects of Satya is speech, though it is not limited to this. Ridiculing others, telling untrue stories, lying and abusing others are what we really want to avoid here. By rooting out falsehoods, yogis can live truthfully and without fear being at peace with the people around them. This will also contribute to a person’s charisma; when the speech is controlled and truthful, words become far more powerful. When the yogi ceases lying, falsehoods, and malice of speech, self-control is greatly increased and truth begins to drip from the yogi’s actions and life, giving him what he needs to survive and thrive.

Asteya (not stealing) is the desire to own something that another has. This is at the root of all yoga, detachment from the material world and possessions. We need to realize that you really don’t own anything; it is just bullshit you have told yourself to make your life easier. You borrow from this planet, from the people around you and really everything that you have ever received is a gift. Yogi’s do not gather or take possessions of others at all, and even his own possessions are minimal to allows for no distractions from his path. Jealousy, greed, and cravings are abandoned on the journey to the divine and once the yogi relinquishes possessions, the yogi will be given treasures and gifts that will sustain him. Each small gift will be a treasure beyond measure for it was given to the yogi directly from the source of life.

Brahmacharya (‘Brahma’ means the god of creation and ‘charin’ means constantly moving) is by definition living a life of restrain, celibacy, or oneness with god. Iyengar mentions in his book that the loss of semen leads to loss of life and talks a lot about living a celibate life, but I truly do not believe this is necessary at all for realizing the divine. I do believe it is necessary to temper desire, and to avoid meaningless sexual encounters, but most religions will agree that god is love and a yogi’s pursuit is to realize that god. Therefore, it is more about self-control, care, appreciation and love for the gift of sexuality and respect and commitment to the sacred gift it can bring to two people. Masturbation is also good for healthy prostate functioning,  (20 or so times a month will reduce the risk of prostate cancer) so I don’t think celibacy in any way is a necessity for union with the divine, though abuse of any sexuality will certainly lead away. This also applies to cleaning the spaces that you use, keeping the place where you practice yoga sacred, and performing your duties and jobs to the best of your ability.

Aparigraha (‘parigraha’ means hoarding, collecting) is avoiding collection or things that one does not truly need. These objects are really distractions for the yoga from the truth they are seeking and lead away from the divine. So even too much of one thing can be viewed as stealing from others. The yogi lives a life of minimalistic material possessions; the yogi does not value them because they are only borrowed and never truly his to begin with. The yogi should make his life as simple as possible so as to focus his time on the connection with the divine, then everything that he needs will come to him at the proper time. A true yogi is satisfied no matter what happens to him, for he appreciates the gift of his own life and trusts in god to provide him with whatever he may need for his journey back to god.

The Yamas are the first limb of yoga and can really help the yoga to live in harmony. It brings stillness, beauty, love, and peace to the yogi and happiness will thrive as a result. These are the foundations of living your yoga, living a life that is at peace with god, and ultimately finding fulfillment in life. This is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga, stay tuned for the Niyamas, the second limb of Ashtanga yoga.

The Opening Ashtanga Chant

Sanskrit of the opening Ashtanga salute to Patanjali

Chanting is powerful, especially in Sanskrit. But I don’t like chanting without knowing the meaning of the words I am saying. Here is a translation of the opening Ashtanga chant:

I pray to the lotus feet of the supreme guru
Who teaches the good knowledge, showing the way
To knowing the self-awakening great happiness,
Beyond better is the doctor of the jungle, able to remove
The poisoned ignorance of conditioned existence.

In his guise as the divine servant,
With 1,000 white radiant heads,
Human form below the shoulders,
Holding the sword of discrimination,
The fire wheel of time,
and the conch of divine sound,
To the sage Patanjali I prostrate.

Here’s the original chant:

vande gurunam caranaravinde
sandarsitasvatma sukhava bodhe
nih sreyase jangalikayamane
samsara halahalamohasantyai
abahu purusakaram
sankhacakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim

Personal Practice of the Ashtanga Primary Series

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

I practice Ashtanga by myself sometimes. It can be liberating in ways that a studio can’t fulfill. Every time I complete the primary series, I feel so empowered and at peace. I learned the primary series from an instructor in Boston that I forget, but ever since then have felt like I have permission to practice it by myself. Here is what I practice:

Start with the chant to Patanjali:

vande gurunam caranaravinde sandarsitasvatma sukhava bodhe nih sreyase jangalikayamane samsara halahala mohasantyai abahu purusakaram sankhacakrasi dharinam sahasra sirasam svetam pranamami patanjalim

Then begin sun salutation A, completing 5 times with 3-5 resting breathes in Adho Mukha Svanasana each time

Samastitihi > raise hands to sun > Uttanasana > Arda-Uttanasana > jumpt to Chataranga > Urdhva Mukha Svanasana > Adho Mukha Svanasana > jump to Uttanasana > Arda-Uttanasana > raise hands to the sun > Samastitihi

Begin Sun Salutation B for 5 reps, this time taking 5 breathes in Adho Mukha Svanasana

Samastitihi > Utkatasana > Uttanasana > Arda-Uttanasana > jump to Chataranga > Urdhva Mukha Svanasana > Adho Mukha Svanasana > Virabhadrasana A (right) > Chataranga > Urdhva Mukha Svanasana > Adho Mukha Svanasana > Virabhadrasana A (left) > Chataranga > Urdhva Muhka Svanasana > Adho Mukha Svanasana > Arda-Uttanasana > Uttanasana > Utkatasana > Samastitihi

Then we begin the standing postures, doing salutations into mountain pose between each posture

Padagustasana (ragdoll) > Pada Hastasana (palms under feet) > Uttitha-Trikonasana (both sides) > Parivrtta-Uttitha-Trikonasana (both sides) > Uttitha-Parsvokonasana (both sides) > Parivrtta-Uttitha-Trikonasana (both sides) > Prasaritta-Padottanasana > Prasaritta Padottanasana B (hands to hips) > Prasaritta-Padottanasana C (hands in fist behind back) > Prasaritta-Padottanasana D (pointer and middle finger to big toe) > Parsvottanasana (both sides) > Uttitha-Hasta-Padagustasana A, B, C (hand to foot in front, rotate to side, remove hand and extend leg forward) (both sides) > Arda Baddha Padmottanasana (both sides) > Utkatasana > Virabhadrasana A (both sides) > Virabhadrasana B (both sides)

After Warrior 2, then we move into seated postures, continuing sun salutation A between each posture

Dandasana > Paschimottanasana A, B (fingers to big toes, bound hands outside feet) > Purvattanasana > Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana (half bound lotus with hand outside of foot) > Triang Mukhaekapada Paschimottanasana (resting foot behind, hands bound outside feet) > Janu Sirsanana A, B, C (foot inside thigh, foot under thigh, foot facing down below thigh) > Marichyasana A, B, C, D (hands bound behind bent knee, stretched foot into thigh, rebind outside in, bend knee into bound grip) > Navasana > Bujapidasana > Kurmasana > Supta Kurmasana > Garbha Pindasana > Kukkutasana > Baddha Konasana A, B > Upavista Konasana A, B > Supta Konasana > Supta Padagustasana A, Supta Padagustasana > Ubhaya Padagusthasana > Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana > Setu Bandhasana > Urdhva Danurasana

By now you should be ready to cool down, this is an enormous amount of postures and the full sequence can take over 2 hours. Finish with:

Salamba Sarvangasana > Halasana > Karnapidasana > Urdhva Padmasana > Pindasana > Mathsyasana > Uttana Padasana > Sirsanana A > Sirsanana B > Yoga Mudra (double bound lotus) > Padmasana > Utpluthih > Savasana

Now you can take a closing chant, which tend to be very powerful:

svasti prajabhyah paripalayantam nyayena margena mahim mahisah go brahmanebhyah subhamastu nityam lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

And the practice is concluded.

Adorned Krishna at Patanjali Temple-Bellur India
Adorned Krishna at Patanjali Temple-Bellur India (Photo credit: Keith “Captain Photo” Cuddeback)

Ashtanga Yoga and the Mysore Style Practice from India

Ashtanga Yoga Founder Krishnamacharya

Ashtanga – My Experiences

(I originally wrote this article before India. I’ve added on section devoted to my experiences in Mysore, India with Saraswathi Jois)

I love Ashtanga. I wish I had a morning Ashtanga practice that I could do every day with a teacher leading, maybe 2 hours. Ashtanga is a system of Hatha (physical yoga) that is extremely challenging and takes a long time to work into. You can tell pretty easily if someone does Ashtanga, just watch them go into plank and lower into chataranga and you’ll know. They don’t shrug their shoulders at all and it looks like they’ve done it a million times and can jump to handstand at any moment. Like a feather. That’s because they have done it a million times and they can jump to handstand at any moment.

Practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India

In January 2015 I left Sacramento to travel to Mysore, India for three month in one of the poorest and most interesting countries in the world. Mysore is relatively peaceful and is one of the more religious places in all of India.

I arrived in Bangalore and traveled to Mysore over the course of another 7 hour drive. The Jois Shala, where the Ashtanga yoga method is now taught by Patthabhi Jois’ descendants to people that sign up in advanced to study with them.

Saraswathi Jois is a kindhearted and very loving older woman who looks fierce in her defense of her father’s tradition. Her ability to guide individuals in the primary series is powerful if guided by your own knowledge of limitations, injuries, and anatomical quirks that may exist in your body. No one in India will be able to reconcile these type of unique individualities for you, simply because the science and education are not at high enough levels yet.

Sharath looks a bit more imposing than Saraswathi, but is more accomplished in the series. I did not have a chance to practice with him, did not feel drawn to.

In modern Ashtanga there is a lot of forcing, which is not something I consider to be a truly mindful yoga practice. India taught me a lot about how to work within my own body and within a week of practicing yoga in Mysore I hurt my knee doing poses I had no business doing. I was forcing. I returned over the next fews days determined to be gentler and softer with myself and it worked. In a week I was 95% better.

Ashtanga is no replacement for science. Remember to educate yourself with your own unique anatomy, each pose is different in each skeleton.

Ashtanga in Boston

In Boston, I practiced at Back Bay and they had an Ashtanga class that was 2 hours every day and I tried it out. It was self led, so you did 5 sun salutation A, 5 sun salutation B (add chair & warrior 1), then straight into the standing series. We practiced until the end of the primary series and the teacher might talk to you about your practice for a minute. Maybe.

It was not fun to have the seasoned teacher of 15 years leave for a month-long vacation and have the sub teach, especially when the regular teacher wasn’t amazing to begin with. That’s when my practice at Back-Bay ended for a while, I was pretty disappointed. But I started to practice the primary series on my own and now I have a personal Ashtanga practice. Taking ownership of a personal practice is pretty powerful. In the end, it all kind of worked out (minus two months of paid yoga that I didn’t get to use for Ashtanga).

Ashtanga is an intensely personal practice. Anyone who has an regular Ashtanga practice will likely care about it a lot. You have to really regulate yourself, because its really easy to get injured doing scorpion poses and handstand lion’s breathes. I recommend some good prana-yama 30 minutes before practicing an Ashtanga series or class, it will mean a big difference in your prana passageways.

Ashtanga’s primary series can be really fun. Triangle, Prasaritta, Hasta padagustasana, Navasana, and Kurmasana are some of the first poses you will do after Sun Salutations and they are really great poses for the body to experience. Lots of inversion to help bloodflow and circulation of cerebral-spinal fluid. Not to mention the increased circulation because of sun salutes.

Ashtanga Chart
Ashtanga Primary Series

I found a studio in Sacramento that might offer good classes with a guy named Bill. This combined with Fridays at LEAP with Karen from 1 to 3 should make up my led Ashtanga classes. Maybe I can do it 3 times a week? 5-7 would be my ideal, but even that is very taxing, Ashtanga practices can be over two hours if you need it. Which happens.

I also think that yoga will evolve from the existing Ashtanga practice, which it seems has been lacking since Jois’ death. Iyengar is definitely a great teacher, and less controversial. I feel like Ashtanga type of yoga is destined to evolve. Maybe it already does somewhere…

Asntagna teacher
Random Ashtanga Teacher