Book Three of the Yoga Sutras: Portion on Accomplishments
Book Three of the Yoga Sutras can read like a spell book. Meditate on something particular and receive a special "power". Honestly, the esoteric mysticism of it really turned me off when I first read Book Three. My parents are scientists; I've always gone over facts before making a decision; I'm studying the science of yoga's effects for goodness sake! I don't believe in superpowers.
So I kind of swept Book Three under the rug. But as I went deeper into my practice of yoga, it began to make more and more sense. I was running a case study, if you will, on the effects of yoga on myself. As my physical body got stronger, more flexible, and more balanced, my mind also began to come under my control. As I met more and more people traveling on the same path, I learned techniques for developing even greater control - or Nirodhah - over the movement of my mind. And as I got more adept at my favorite techniques, I noticed certain qualities in myself become more pronounced. When I practiced mantra repetition, it became easier to hold my mind on one thought. When I practiced loving-kindness meditation, I was able to see goodness, even in people who had seemed "bad" to me before. When I practiced concentrating on a specific concept, such as patience, generosity, or courage, these qualities began to naturally flow out of me.
As Swami Satchidananda said, "as you think, so you become." Turns out, Swamiji was right. Neuroscientists have found that having a thought primes us to have that thought again. Basically, our thoughts create grooves within our brains. When we think a thought many times, that groove is deep and when we think of a thought rarely, the groove is shallow. Deeper grooves tend to channel thoughts, like the earth does to water. So if we think a thought often, that thought is more likely to arise spontaneously. If a thought frequently arises, it shapes our actions. Our actions create our character. And as the saying goes, our character is our destiny. This means our thoughts, and thus, our actions, our destinies, our very selves, are all within our control...with practice. This control is the superpower we can develop!
Luckily for us, Patanjali has given us a three-step method for bringing our mind under control and reaching enlightenment. It's the last three steps of Ashtanga Yoga - Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. An entire book within the Yoga Sutras is dedicated to learning to control the mind because our minds are vast and tempestuous. So it makes sense that it would take discipline to get the mind under control. Dharana, or concentration, is actually the only step we can actively work on. After practicing Dharana by keeping our mind focused on one thing, the next two steps fall into place naturally with practice. As concentration becomes more easeful, we may find our thoughts halting altogether. Our consciousness will find no separation between ourselves and the object of our concentration. This is meditation, or Dhyana. It is the consistent practice of meditation and the resultant feelings of peace and joy that lead to Samadhi, or enlightenment. [Full disclosure: I have definitely not reached Samadhi.] Samadhi is said to be the constant experience of "sameness" between ourselves and all other things. The understanding that nothing is in fact, separate from us. Once Samadhi is reached, it is never lost; that person remains enlightened for the rest of their life. While we may experience a taste of Samadhi by meditating, it is only, truly Samadhi once that experience is unchangeable. It is a recognition that we all - people, animals, plants, rocks, planets, stars - come from the same place. It is this recognition that leads to greater humanity and harmony, which is why many feel that contemplative practices, such as yoga, lead to a more peaceful world.
Consistent practice can be hard. It requires patience, discipline, and acceptance. But the concept of practice is also empowering. It means you don't have to "nail it". You don't have to sit down and not think any thoughts for five minutes the first time you meditate. You don't have to reach Samadhi the first month you start practicing yoga. You can make mistakes and still be practicing, still be growing, still be on the path to your goals. There's a beautiful and inspiring sutra in the Bhagavad Gita, "On this path no effort is wasted, no gain is ever reversed; even a little of this practice will shelter you from great sorrow." Know that by practicing just a little, you are growing. Notice your growth and its positive effects. Cultivate those thoughts by concentrating on them. And use that strength to batten down the hatches of your practice.
This is a very condensed explanation of these three important practices. We'll go more in depth into Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi in future posts. Which of them excite you most?
Want to practice some Dharana? We have a collection of guided meditations you can use to develop concentration.
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.