What is Samadhi?

What is Samadhi?

This article is part of a series exploring ashtanga yoga, or the eight-limbed path. You can check out previous articles on the seventh limb, Dhyana, the sixth limb, Dharana, the fifth limb, Pratyahara, the fourth limb, Pranayama, and the third limb, Asana, as well as the articles exploring the yamas (Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha) and niyamas (Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana) for more background.

Samadhi is the eighth and final limb of the eight-limbed path as defined by Patanjali, who compiled the Yoga Sutras. Samadhi is a combination of sama, meaning “even,” and –dhi, meaning “mind.” Samadhi is a state of total concentration and awareness; a person experiencing Samadhi is considered to have entered a state of enlightenment.

Beginning with the fifth limb, Pratyahara, the rest of the eight limbs are about training the mind. Pratyahara was about withdrawing the senses from the constant barrage of stimulation in the modern world. Once that skill is refined and you are able to ignore external stimuli, then you can move onto Dharana, which was the practice of concentration on one single thing. Dhyana is beyond practice; you have achieved Dhyana when you have completely uninterrupted, ongoing concentration on the object of your meditation. Samadhi is the final phase of this meditation journey: when the object of concentration and the mind that is concentrating have become one and the same.

Now that I know what Samadhi is, can’t I just start with that?

Patanjali believed that one had to move through all the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga in sequence, and there are logical reasons that support this belief. You cannot focus on a physical practice without being comfortable in your body and mind, which are the point of the yamas and niyamas. You cannot focus on your breath if you are physically uncomfortable, which is the reason for Asana. You cannot meditate if you are not comfortable and coordinated with your breath, which you gain from a steady practice of Pranayama. Finally, the stages of meditation go gradually deeper and deeper into a state of stillness and peace, which the mind naturally resists by jumping around. Trying to jump straight to Samadhi without taking the previous steps is like trying to do the splits when you’ve never stretched before – every part of you is going to rebel against the attempt.

In the experience of Samadhi, you are no longer aware of a separation between yourself – the meditator – and the object you are meditating on. This is often also described as oneness with divinity; you understand that you are one with God, the Universe, or however else you describe a higher power. The borders that separate you from your surroundings are non-existent. This state of one-ness and identifying with everything around you is defined as the experience of bliss, nirvana, or enlightenment.

So if I attain Samadhi, am I “done”?

Samadhi is a meditative experience and is typically temporary. It can last anywhere from 30 seconds to hours, but commonly, when you first experience Samadhi, it will likely be for short periods of time. The more mature your practice becomes, the easier it will be to attain Samadhi for longer periods of time. This attainment of sitting Samadhi is the first type of Samadhi.

How does this make a person “enlightened”?

A person is considered “enlightened” in certain traditions when they can maintain the same sense of connectedness and lack of separation in all moments of their waking life. This is a more spiritual awakening, rather than a practice of sitting still and breathing, and it is the second type of Samadhi that can eventually progress from the sitting Samadhi. In constant Samadhi, you can intimately identify with the divine and understand the temporary nature of everything around you.

It is natural to experience a strong desire to experience Samadhi, especially if you have diligently practiced the other seven limbs. One thing to be careful of is being overly focused on the “destination” of Samadhi; fear of not “achieving” Samadhi or self-criticism for lack of perceived progress can hinder this journey for you. It’s important to practice the eight limbs, but also include practices of gratitude for your own ability and compassion for your human-ness.

Most of all, attaining Samadhi is a deeply personal experience and one that cannot be handed to you or pushed into. The only way to experience Samadhi is to practice over the long term without force or criticism.