Alright, guys. We’ve reached the culmination, the final branch of the Eight Limbs of Yoga: Samadhi.
Even if you don’t run in yogi circles or attend yoga classes, you may have heard this word. It’s often translated as “enlightenment” or even “bliss”, but as a language nut, I don’t think these translations can even begin to convey the actual scope of Samadhi. I’ll be honest with you: I don’t think I’ve experienced Samadhi yet, so I don’t feel that I can give you a very complete explanation of what it feels like. Furthermore, even if I had experienced this state of enlightenment, I highly doubt that words would be very useful in attempting to impart a description. And you know what? That’s okay. That’s the beauty of Samadhi. That’s the point.
I’m going to go into linguist mode for a moment now because there’s something really interesting about the word Samadhi itself. If you’ve ever practiced Ashtanga, you know that what is often called Tadasana in other yoga traditions is referred to as Samastitihi, or equal standing posture. That first part, “sama” (also found in Samadhi), means “equal”. So, if “sama” can be translated to English as “equal”, what’s “dhi”, you ask? There are various words we could use, but my favorite translations are “understanding” and “seeing”. So, the very word Samadhi means “equal understanding” or “equal seeing”. What does it mean to understand everything equally, to see everything as equal?
I think a lot of times we hear the word enlightenment or bliss, and we think of a state of perpetual, uninterrupted happiness. However, this is not what Samadhi is. In Samadhi, we can finally see clearly, the veil of Maya (illusion) has been flung off and we can see reality as it is, free of attachments, lusts, and labels. We can see things equally. Although yoga is not a Buddhist tradition, I am reminded of the second of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism, the one that states that the root of suffering is attachment. The Buddha said that “the attachment to the desire to have (craving) and the desire not to have (aversion)” is what causes suffering (quotation taken from http://www.zen-buddhism.net). Now, I’m Jewish and do not practice the Buddhist faith, but I still find a lot of truth to this idea. The more we fixate on the things that we don’t have but want and the things that we have but don’t want, the more our thoughts and feelings revolve around a state of lack, of discontentedness. That’s where Samadhi comes in. If we can start to see all these things, from the illnesses to the periods of vitality, from the breakups to the stable relationships, as equal and as happening for us instead of to us, we are well on our way to a much more peaceful, content life.
I’m not saying this is easy. I’m also not saying this is something I have mastered. If this sounds super difficult to you right now, I am right there with you! However, the previous seven branches of yoga can help us in our journey to Samadhi. Samadhi isn’t a permanent state; it isn’t something that you reach and — boom! — you’re enlightened and will never feel suffering again. Samadhi takes patience and it takes humility. It will ebb and flow. The practice of yoga, though, with all eight of its branches, is incredibly transformative and can bring about amazing, lasting change if you simply open yourself and allow the changes to happen.
So, smart small. Take that hour-long yoga class once a week. Get up with the sun. Say no to spreading the rumor you just heard about a coworker. Sit for ten minutes in silent gratitude, feeling your breath. These are all a part of yoga, and they are the things that make life wonderful.
I wish you so much happiness and joy as you continue on your yoga journeys, and know that I’m always here to answer questions and offer encouragement. May you feel the peace of being truly yourself today and every day. Namaste!