VIII. Samadhi (Union with the Divine)
The final step in the eight-fold path of Yoga is the attainment of Samadhi. Samadhi means “to bring together, to merge.” In the state of samadhi the body and senses are at rest, as if asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. During samadhi, we realize what it is to be an identity without differences, and how a liberated soul can enjoy pure awareness of this pure identity. The conscious mind drops back into that unconscious oblivion from which it first emerged.
Thus, samadhi refers to union or true Yoga. There is an ending to the separation that is created by the “I” and “mine” of our illusory perceptions of reality. The mind does not distinguish between self and non-self, or between the object contemplated and the process of contemplation. The mind and the intellect have stopped and there is only the experience of consciousness, truth and unutterable joy.
The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task. For this reason the Yoga Sutra suggests the practice of asanas and pranayama as preparation for dharana, because these influence mental activities and create space in the crowded schedule of the mind. Once dharana has occurred, dhyana and samadhi can follow.
These eight steps of yoga indicate a logical pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, and psycho-spiritual health. Yoga does not seek to change the individual; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to become a reality.xviii
Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit, by Donna Farhi
Light On Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar
Yoga Mind & Body, Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center
With many different types of yoga being practiced today, it may be difficult to figure out which style benefits your mind and body the most. It’s important to find out which type of yoga meets your needs. Here are some of the practiced styles of YOGA!
Hatha originated in India in the 15th century. This type of yoga is slow-paced, gentle, and focused on breathing and meditation.
• Purpose: To introduce beginners to yoga with basic poses and relaxation techniques
• Benefits: Relieves stress, provides physical exercise, and improves breathing
• Good for: Beginners and people wanting to learn the basics of yoga
Much like Hatha, Vinyasa covers basic poses and breath-synchronized movement. This variety of Hatha yoga emphasizes on the Sun Salutation, a series of 12 poses where movement is matched to the breath.
• Purpose: To link the breath with movement and to build lean muscle mass throughout the body
• Benefits: Helps improve strength and flexibility, tones the abdominal muscles, and reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes
• Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike seeking to strengthen their bodies
Ashtanga yoga metaphorically focuses on eight limbs. Considered a form of power yoga, Ashtanga is fast-paced and intense with lunges and push-ups.
• Purpose: To help improve one’s spiritual self
• Benefits: Relieves stress, improves coordination, and helps with weight loss
• Good for: Fit people looking to maintain strength and stamina, and those who want to get in touch with their spiritual side
Iyengar covers all eight aspects of Ashtanga yoga and focuses on bodily alignment. Different props like straps, blankets, and blocks are used to assist in strengthening the body. Standing poses are emphasized, and are often held for long periods of time.
• Purpose: To strengthen and bring the body into alignment
• Benefits: Helps improve balance, speeds up recovery from an injury, and builds up body strength
• Good for: Beginners who want to learn the correct alignments in each pose and those with injuries, balance issues, and chronic medical conditions like arthritis
Also known as hot yoga, Bikram is practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room. It’s typically a series of 26 poses that allows for a loosening of tight muscles and sweating.
• Purpose: To flush out toxins and to deeply stretch the muscles
• Benefits: Speeds up recovery from an injury, enhances flexibility, and cleanses the body
• Good for: Beginners and advanced yogis alike who want to push themselves and those with physical injuries
These are only a few of many styles of yoga.
As described in the “Bhagavad-Gita” and the “Yoga Sutra”, the four types of yoga in Hinduism are Jnana yoga, Bhakti yoga, Karma yoga and Raja yoga. Each of these is practiced by yogis as a way of disconnecting from the temporary existence, or “Atman”, and focusing instead upon the eternal consciousness, or “Brahman”.
1. Jnana Yoga
This type of yoga concentrates upon identity through the pursuit of knowledge of the practitioner’s self, “Atman”, versus the eternal essence of the universe, Brahman. The first step of Jnana yoga is education, through which the yogi studies sacred texts such as the “Upanishads” or the “Vedantas”, familiarizing herself with the concepts of Atman and Brahman. Next, the yogi studies what constitutes her temporary identity—or this life—versus her eternal soul. Finally, the practitioner separates her temporary self from her eternal soul. For example, rather than thinking “I,” the yogi thinks in the third person, “her”.
Bhakti yoga focuses upon the yogi’s devotion of a particular Hindu god or goddess of his choosing. For example, a practitioner may choose to follow Ganesh, the Hindu elephant god of wisdom and education . The yogi then devotes his whole self to this god, much like a devout Christian dedicates his life to following Jesus. The practitioner may present gifts to Ganesh at a Hindu temple, chant his name throughout the day or focus on ways Ganesh influences his day-to-day living.
Practitioners of karma yoga attempt to end the cycle of karma, or the result of accruing good and bad deeds throughout one’s life. Each of these deeds influences the outcome of the yogi’s next life. With karma yoga, the practitioner seeks to end the cycle of death and rebirth. To achieve this, the yogi separates her temporary self from her eternal self, as in Jnana yoga, but instead spends her life in devotion to a chosen god or goddess, as in Bhakti yoga. According to the Philosophy Department at Lander University, “Every act done without thought of self diminishes self-centeredness and brings one closer to the divine.”
The final version of Hindu yoga, Raja yoga, constitutes meditation on and the removal of the practitioner’s consciousness of the temporary self, and instead focuses upon awareness of the eternal universe. This differs from Jnana yoga in that it prioritizes meditation over learning. Through Raja yoga, the practitioner shifts the mind completely from outside distractions as well as bodily influences such as breathing or heartbeat. Without interference, the yogi devotes his concentration fully on a higher realm of consciousness and the unity of Atman and Brahman.
Benefits of Yoga
Stress relief: The practice of yoga is well-demonstrated to reduce the physical effects of stress on the body. The body responds to stress through a fight-or-flight response, which is a combination of the sympathetic nervous system and hormonal pathways activating, releasing cortisol – the stress hormone – from the adrenal glands. Cortisol is often used to measure the stress response. Yoga practice has been demonstrated to reduce the levels of cortisol. Most yoga classes end with savasana, a relaxation pose, which further reduces the experience of stress.
Pain relief: Yoga can ease pain. Studies have shown that practicing yoga asanas (postures), meditation or a combination of the two, reduced pain for people with conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, auto-immune diseases and hypertension as well as arthritis, back and neck pain and other chronic conditions.
Better breathing: Yoga includes breathing practices known as pranayama, which can be effective for reducing our stress response, improving lung function and encouraging relaxation. Many pranayamas emphasize slowing down and deepening the breath, which activates the body’s parasympathetic system, or relaxation response. By changing our pattern of breathing, we can significantly affect our body’s experience of and response to stress. This may be one of the most profound lessons we can learn from our yoga practice.
Flexibility: Yoga can improve flexibility and mobility and increase range of motion. Over time, the ligaments, tendons and muscles lengthen, increasing elasticity.
Increased strength: Yoga asanas use every muscle in the body, increasing strength literally from head to toe. A regular yoga practice can also relieve muscular tension throughout the whole body.
Weight management: While most of the evidence for the effects of yoga on weight loss is anecdotal or experiential, yoga teachers, students and practitioners across the country find that yoga helps to support weight loss. Many teachers specialize in yoga programs to promote weight management and find that even gentle yoga practices help support weight loss. People do not have to practice the most vigorous forms of yoga to lose weight. Yoga encourages development of a positive self-image, as more attention is paid to nutrition and the body as a whole. A study from the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine found that regular yoga practice was associated with less age-related weight gain. The lifestyle study of 15,500 adults in their 50’s covered 10 years of participants’ weight history, physical activity, medical history and diet.
Improved circulation: Yoga helps to improve circulation by efficiently moving oxygenated blood to the body’s cells.
Cardiovascular conditioning: Even a gentle yoga practice can provide cardiovascular benefits by lowering resting heart rate, increasing endurance and improving oxygen uptake during exercise.
Presence: Yoga connects us with the present moment. The more we practice, the more aware we become of our surroundings and the world around us. It opens the way to improved concentration, coordination, reaction time and memory.
Inner peace: The meditative effects of a consistent yoga practice help many cultivate inner peace and calm.
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