In previous posts we saw how the eight limbs of yoga help to deal with the challenges of sheltering at home. Beginning in part 1, we discussed the yamas, or moral imperatives, and in part 2 the niyamas, or personal observances. In the last post, we discussed how asana, pranayama and pratyahara help to navigate the difficulties of sheltering during the pandemic. Here in this last part, we turn our attention to dharana, dhyana and samadhi, the final three of the eight limbs of yoga.
Dharana is most often defined as concentration. It is considered as single-pointed focus. In an asana practice, dharana is developed by focussing on the specific instructions and actions that your body is performing. Turning your mind to direct your body in a particular manner and then holding your attention to maintain the action you have achieved develops your ability to concentrate. This skill is very helpful in these times. Although there may be less to do nowadays, we still need to eat and keep house. Even the smallest tasks can be difficult to complete if we are distracted by thoughts of the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding our situation. In this case, the concentration we have developed through yoga practice helps us to stay on task. In this way, another of the eight limbs of yoga helps us meet the challenges of sheltering.
Next is dhyana, or meditation. Dhyana comes when dharana spreads out through the whole body. In this way, single-pointed concentration diffuses into total absorption. In this way, dharana and dhyana work hand in hand, as a meditative mind can be achieved when one becomes totally absorbed in their work. Classically, meditation is done in a still and silent sitting pose, observing and accepting the reality as it is and not as one would like it to be. The desire for things to be different when there is no chance of affecting a change can produce immense suffering. This is the situation we find ourselves in and dhyana guides us through.
Samadhi is the final of the eight limbs. It is also the most difficult to speak about. This is because it is an experience, an intensely personal one, rather that something that one does. It is the experience of the other seven limbs working in concert. In this way, I call samadhi unity. By this I mean the unity of action through the yogic prescription. In a yoga practice, this is when the yamas and niyamas inform our asana practice. To do the pose with a mind to not harming ourselves is ahimsa in asana. The cultivation of santosha, or contentment, directly supports our meditation. Pratyahara, the inward turning of our senses, is essential in developing dharana as we practice pranayama. Some have described the eight limbs more as the petals of a flower rather than as a linear progression. When all work as one, samadhi is like the beauty of the flower expressed without reservation.
The eight limbs of yoga have a place in helping us to meet the challenges of sheltering from the pandemic. They are moral and ethical guides, physical supports and mental disciplines. When they work together, they produce a depth to our lives which help us stay grounded when current events threaten to carry us away. As I mentioned at the end of part 1, these are only my personal observations. Yoga is meant to be an experience. As a practice, try reading one or more writings on the eight limbs of yoga. Then, using those as an inspiration, find out how they work in your life and in your yoga practice. Yoga is a journey of self-realization. Use this time of social distancing and forced isolation to realize the potential in yourself even during these most challenging of times.