Sutra 1.20: 5 Qualities to lead us to Samadhi

At times our practice becomes difficult (both on and off the mat). The transition to Rainier Beach Yoga has been amazing, and I have felt so much love and support from the community. Transitions, even when they are good, can be challenging and push us to change old held patterns. As I currently work on creating new patterns in myself and my practice I turn to the Yoga Sutras for guidance and support.

Sutra 1.20 includes 5 qualities that lead us to samadhi. Samadhi is a word that can be translated to completely still, pristine state of mind, absorption or enlightenment. It is the last limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates these 5 qualities that lead to samadhi as faith, vigor, retentive power, stillness of mind and intuitive wisdom.

Faith (sraddha) was a big focus of the retreat I led last weekend on Whidbey Island. It is the ability to trust even when you can not see the outcome. A sentence that was repeated many times throughout the weekend was, “It is all ok in the end, and if it isn’t ok it isn’t the end.” This is a profoundly difficult way to approach life when we want certainty, stability and a steady ground beneath us. Faith can hold us when life is uncertain or feels groundless in knowing that this will change. There are many things we can have faith in: yoga, religion, our best friend, our breath, impermanence, etc. What do you have faith in? If we go to therapy, practice yoga or meditate just once our life will most likely not be significantly changed, but if we commit to the process and have faith in it we can hold the possibility of healing (or whatever the “goal” is) even when we can not see that healing yet.

Vigor (virya) is also sometimes translated as strength, and it takes effort to get to our practice, to meditate, to make it to therapy, to journal, draw or do whatever we do that feeds us, nourishes us and makes us feel whole. Frankly, it takes vigor to get out of bed each morning! It is hard work to take care of ourselves and it gets easier and easier with practice (like everything!). Sometimes when I do not want to do the dishes (which is most days) I think of this as a spiritual practice of vigor. I am practicing strengthening my mental muscles when I can meet the work that is in front of me with committment and attention, even if I meet it without a lot of joy. I can tell you from personal experience I am much more joyful in my kitchen when it is clean though. Sometimes doing the work it takes to get to the other side is way more challenging that washing a few dishes though.

Retentive power (smrti) is a natural progression of vigor, and can also be thought of as memory. We all probably have retentive power of brushing our teeth. When we were little ones brushing our teeth probably took a lot of effort and work. Now we are easily committed to the practice of cleaning our teeth. This comes from years and years of committed strength. I once had a meditation teacher compare brushing our teeth to meditation. She said we clean our teeth every morning and night, but we don’t necessarily clean our mind. We can get into the practice of “cleaning our minds” through much effort and strength, which eventually turns into an easier part of our everyday existence like keeping our mouth clean.

Stillness of mind (samadhi) is also translated as contemplation. There are many ways to look at samadhi, and in this sutra samadhi is both the means and the end. We practice stilling the mind in order to still the mind. In meditation we pick our contemplation focus: breath, mantra, lovingkindness, etc. and we allow the mind to rest on that contemplation. In yoga therapy we choose our goals: being kinder to ourselves, allowing ourselves to get comfortable with all our emotions, stopping the war within ourselves and then we put those goals into real time practice. Here is where our faith and our strength begin to show the fruits of our efforts. We have a moment of stillness, or a moment when instead of beating ourselves up we meet our challenge with compassion. These moments happen in seconds at first, and the more we practice these seconds become minutes, then hours, then days.

Intuitive wisdom (prajna) is also translated as discernment. Yesterday in class at Rainier Beach Yogawe were talking about the difference between pain and sensation and when we should back off a pose or when we should challenge ourselves. Of course as the teacher I do not know the answer for anyone in the room other than myself, but I am committed to helping others discover thier own discernment. When our minds are a bit stiller we have an easier time accessing that intuition. How do we still the minds in order to find our own inner wisdom? Faith, strength, remembering and contemplation!

Do you want to learn more about the Yoga Sutras? Read the last few newsletter’s sutra-focused essayshere.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat.