Transforming Your Yoga Practice Through Samyama • Yoga Basics

Focusing is a concept that I have great respect for, also because it can be so challenging. While it is not easy for me to maintain a specific focus during my yoga practice, the concept of yoga known as samyama can be profoundly transformative and can take my asana or meditation session to new heights. This practice combines concentration, meditation and devotion to achieve an expanded and deeper state of consciousness. As samyama practice progresses, one can attain a state of deep stillness in the mind, which is the goal of any yoga practice.

What does samyama mean?

The word "samyama" has two parts: sam means "together, bond or integration" and yama means "discipline". It is the combination and integration of the three most advanced yoga practices of concentration, meditation and the absorption or loss of self-awareness. This practice cultivates discernment and introspection to discover our true or higher selves. Swami Sivananda defines samyama as "perfect control of the mind".

The spiritual effects of samyama

The sutras describe various siddhis or "spiritual powers" that a yogi can acquire through the practice of samyama. While most of these, like levitation and teleportation, sound implausible, Patanjali would like to warn that any spiritual effect from this practice can be a dangerous distraction. The main benefit of samyama is to provide the awareness and insight to remove the five kleshas – the negative mental patterns that obscure our true nature. It also purifies the mind to develop prajna – understanding, listening, and contemplation. Mastery of samyama and the achievement of its benefits are gradually developed through years of dedicated yoga practice.

Yoga sutras

In the Yoga Sutras, samyama does not appear until the third chapter, where Patanjali explains that samyama occurs when the last three of the eight limbs of yoga are practiced at the same time. These links are Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (enabling the dissolution of one's own concept of “self”).

Yoga Sutra 3.4: Trayam Ekatra Samyama
Translation: The three (dharana, dhyan and samadhi) used together on the same object or point are called samyama.

I admit that book three of the sutras felt forbidden until recently after a teacher encouraged me to wait and read this section of the sutras after dutifully practicing the first two books of the four books. However, the more I incorporate samyama into my own meditation practices, the more I become convinced that waiting may not be necessary. According to Sutra 3.5, "mastering samyama brings the light of knowledge," so why not start now?

How to Get Samyama. practices

To begin practicing samyama, one can choose an internal or external focus point. Although the sutras suggest consulting a trusted meditation teacher when choosing a focus, there are some simple, accessible techniques that you can try for yourself once you feel ready to explore the power of intentional focus.

Internal samyama

If you choose to focus internally, simply observing your breath is a good place to start. The next time you find yourself on your mat, watch your breath as it moves in and out of your body. Can you keep your attention on your breath throughout the exercise? If not, see how often your mind drifts and see if you can turn your awareness back to your breath when the mind wanders. Can you be completely enchanted by the rhythm of your inhalation and exhalation?

External samyama

To focus outwardly, consider incorporating a point of view or drishti point during your asana practice. Drishti makes you aware of the speed with which our thoughts are moving – and thus helps calm the mind. For example, in Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog pose) the drishti is at the tip of the nose, and in Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose) the focus is on the navel. The next time you start an asana practice, set the intention to use drishti points during the exercise and see how long you can focus before the mind tries to move. If / when the mind wanders from your point of view, use this as an opportunity to refocus your awareness.

Another way to focus from the outside is to meditate while keeping a gentle gaze fixed on an object like the flame of a candle. Observe the practice of keeping your focus on the object you have chosen for an extended period of time and see if you reach a point where your sense of self seems to dissolve in the object. This self-dissolution is a way of feeling the feeling of samadhi or oneness through meditation – an important step in mastering samyama.

What are the first steps towards samyama?

It is important to remember that going to Samyama is simply a journey. It starts with small moments of integrated concentration and over many years of practice leads to a place of depth. It can be a lonely, challenging, daunting, and demanding job. It can also be an amazing journey of transformation and self-discovery. Support, inspiration, and encouragement from a community or meditation teacher are helpful. Dedicated sadhana or daily yoga practice is recommended for the best effects.

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