When a person acquires a particular stage of knowledge, then the person wants to progress to the levels beyond that. Then when the progressive stage is mastered, the person walks towards the next level and so on.
In this process, when the person has to go through the preceding step (which already has been mastered) it comes naturally. It’s something we call the “result of Abhyasa (practice)” in yoga.
Such is the practice of Samyama in yoga. It involves combing three practices together, which already has been practised as separate disciplines.
What is Samyama?
When a yogi sits to meditate, there are three mental level practices through which he has to go through; focusing on the object (concentration), absorption into the object (meditation) and no distinction between subject and object (complete absorption).
These three practices are the last three of yoga’s eight limbs; Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi.
Samyama is an advanced stage of yoga when the last three limbs Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are practised simultaneously.
As one progresses into the practice of these three limbs separately, the state of samyama comes more naturally and the person achieves profound stillness in the mind, which is the goal of all yogic practice.
What does Samyama mean?
The word Samyama has its meaning in the combination of ‘Sam’ and ‘Yama’. Sam means ‘binding together, or ‘combining’ and Yama means ‘discipline’. Thus, binding or combinedly practicing the disciplines of the same nature is called Samyama.
Samyama in Yoga refers to the practice of three disciplines that helps us internalize our awareness towards the mind. It’s the combined practice of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (absorption).
It is essentially the collective practice of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi built on the foundation of earlier stages of Ashtanga Yoga.
The Yoga Sutras explain Samyama in the first verse of the third chapter Vibhuti Pada.
‘Trayam Ekatra Samyama’Trasnlation: Those three practices (concentration, deep meditation, and absorption in the universe) are together called Samyama.
All of the three practices as we know can result from the steadiness of the mind and body achieved by practising the first five stages of Yoga.
The fifth stage of Pratyahara is about withdrawing your attention from the demands of the senses and turning it inward. Attending your own thoughts, mental mechanisms and how they work brings about concentration. It is the phase of Dharana that you move into.
Sustained concentration applied on a single object leads to meditating upon that object. When the connection between the object and meditator is formed the person moves into the state of Dhyana. It essentially makes the person forget his sensory world and is lost in self-realization.
Deeper states of Dhyana reveal higher and higher truths about the self until the person reaches Samadhi Avastha. These three are said to be the stages of attention. With them, the meditator progressively moves inward until he finds the core of himself.
The Importance of Samyama in Yoga
To discover the deeper aspects of our being, we must intensely focus inward. This condition is achieved by the practice of Samyama. It offers an enhanced sense of discrimination between unreal and real and leads the path to liberation.
In a world full of countless material attractions, we have forgotten about this discrimination power. We have started wrongly associating happiness or satisfaction with physical appearance, material belongings and so on. Samyama is a process that enables the yogi to move past ignorance and gain discriminative capacity.
When the person’s mind is capable enough of discriminating at a gross level, Samyama is applied to subtler levels of the object. The most subtle discrimination leads to liberation. However, this process occurs gradually when the yogi starts applying Samyama to the deeper levels.
And eventually with the razor-sharp attention, the yogi is finally able to witness knowledge of all the levels of meditation he has achieved. The practice of Samyama essentially brings the knowledge to the yogi and hence is important in his yogic sadhana.
As described by Sage Patanjali, the practice of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi together nears the Samadhi level. Where the first five stages work on the external aspects, Samyama is a practice of purifying our internal aspects and going closer to self-absorption.
Practice of Samyama
Samyama is a combined practice of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. It is the practice that should come with intense application of the previous five limbs of Yoga. Samyama is a deeper meditative process that requires the yogi to be disciplined and undistracted by the trivial changes.
1. Adapt a Meditative Posture
Before beginning with the Samyama practice, a yogi should calm his mind, get rid of all the negative thoughts and sit for meditation. He can adapt any comfortable meditative posture in which he can stay stable for a longer duration.
Maintaining the erected spine is essential to all meditative practices. In Samyama, a yogi can adapt the Mudra (hand gesture) of his choice and with closed eyes can start meditating.
2. Choose the Object of Meditation
When a yogi is settled in the meditative posture, he must decide what he is going to meditate on. The object of meditation can be external or internal. External objects refer to a candle flame, an altar, an image of Om etc. Internal object means focusing on one’s breathing.
Once this object is decided, a person can begin to concentrate on its aspect, trying not to get distracted by the sensory factors. Here, the process of the first stage, Dharana begins.
3. Stabilize in Dharana
The stage of Dharana goes by intense focusing on the object of meditation. And after a long time of concentration in this phase, the yogi slips to the next stage of Dhyana. Here, he forms the link with the object and is connected with it by a continuous flow.
4. Stabilize in Dhyana
In the Dhyana stage, the yogi is totally absorbed with his object of meditation and sees with clarity, what Samadhi entails. Practicing Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi sort of occurs simultaneously as a practice of Samyama.
There is a very little gap between the stages and they seem to overlap one another. The practice of Samyama reaches from the gross levels to subtle levels by sharply attending to each and every factor relating to the object of meditation. However, it should be kept in mind that until the yogi gains control over the external factors (first five limbs), he is not able to achieve the internal stages (Samyama).
As the practice of Samyama becomes stronger, the yogi can clearly witness the stage of Samadhi. It leaves the yogi very powerful in terms of knowledge. That is why while practicing, the yogi should gradually try to make Samyama the most natural and effortless practice.
The inseparable meditation with Dharana, Dhyana, and Samyama is the way to gain more mental and spiritual powers. It is the exercise to purify the mind as the first five limbs are the practices for the body, prana, and senses.
Samyama is the process of integration. It is the process of applying attention to every level of your experience so that clarity can move in. With clarity, comes the power of discrimination. With this, comes knowledge. And with knowledge of the real, the yogi can peacefully let go of his ego and settle in the infinite.