Have you ever seen or envisioned something so beautiful and perfect that you wanted to lose yourself in it, to merge and become one with it? Even if you didn't have that exact thought, "I want to merge with this," you may have gazed at a painting, a sunrise over water, the full moon on a clear night or a beautiful animal in nature, and forgotten where or who you were in that moment.
Certain fleeting moments can give us the feeling of being transported to another realm or level of existence where we feel peaceful, blissful, and whole, and where time seems to stop. Sometimes we experience this in a relationship; our walls crumble and we feel at one with another person.
These experiences of unity are a shared human phenomenon. People seek out and cultivate unifying experiences. In Yoga, we most definitely cultivate wholeness and unity; the word "yoga" literally means "to unite," "to join," "to yoke," from the root word yuj.
Thousands of years ago, when the first yogis devoted all their hours and energy to developing, teaching and recording yogic practices, they honed in on a particular meditation technique which combines the last three limbs of Astanga Yoga: dharana, dhyana and samadhi. This technique is called, samyama, a word that means "tying up" or "binding together."
Samyama is the process of total absorption into the object of meditation. Through samyama the meditator develops an ability to focus so intently on one thing as to acquire the very inherent qualities of that thing. "As you think, so shall you become," a statement we have heard in various forms from the Bible, the Buddha and people like Bruce Lee. Samyama is a way to choose a focus, lose ourselves in it, and merge with it. It brings about the experience of unity.
Here is the English translation of the initial teachings on Samyama in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:
1. Dharana is the binding of the mind to one place, object or idea.
2. Dhyana is the continuous flow of cognition toward that object.
3. Samadhi is the same meditation when there is the shining of the object alone, as if devoid of form.
4. The practice of these three [dharana, dhyana and samadhi] upon one object is called samyama.
5. By the mastery of samyama comes the light of knowledge.
6. Its practice is to be accomplished in stages.
We don't have to be master meditators or experienced yogis to begin working with samyama in our practice. There is no other place to start something than at the beginning, and indeed many beginning meditators will train their minds by visually concentrating on one object, like a candle flame or a photograph. We should be judicious in choosing our object of meditation so that it aligns with who and what we wish to become. If it is true that we take on the qualities of our object of meditation, it would be unwise to meditate on anything we don't want to resemble. For this reason, we choose an object that is simple and pure, like light, hence the common choice of a candle.
Though samyama is meant to be practiced in formal meditation, I want to offer it up as technique we can use as we move through our yoga postures:
In your practice today, begin in seated meditation by quieting your mind, and then choose a quality you wish to embody. What would you like to become? What reality do you want to express with your body? Take some time in stillness and allow a quality to come to your mind. Think of one word. If nothing arises for you, some suggestions are: grace, peace, joy, harmony, love, tenderness.
Once you have chosen your word for the quality you wish to embody, sit and focus for a few moments on that word, saying it silently to yourself in a class, or both silently and out loud if you are alone. Feel the sound vibrations of the word. Picture it written on a chalkboard. Tune into any sensations you feel in your body as you think of your word. Then, imagine a person in total harmony with your chosen quality. For example, if you have chosen grace, think of the most graceful person you can imagine. Next, imagine yourself as an embodiment of your chosen quality. Say to yourself, "I am [your quality]." I am grace. I am peace. I am love. I am tenderness. Imagine this quality radiating from your center through all of your being: your chest, arms, hands, legs, feet, throat, eyes, forehead, each strand of your hair, and even your pores. Your mantra for your practice today is, "I am ____." Connect with it and keep coming back to it in a breathing and moving meditation through your postures. In each movement, each posture, each transition, keep reaching deeper and deeper for the essence of that quality and let your focus and attention remain anchored there.
Use this technique on your own, for longer periods in seated meditation and when you want to bring a certain quality to your yoga postures.