07 Feb Lessons from a yoga mat #1: What does Samadhi mean to a girl in Perth on a yoga mat in her lounge room
The second book of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the foundation texts of yoga, tells us what we have to do to move towards the ultimate objective of yoga.
“Do I know what the objective of yoga is?” you might be wondering. “I’m just there for the relaxation and the stretching. I’m not really into the whole spiritual thing. I didn’t think there was a goal.”
People take up yoga for many reasons: injury, exercise, stress, to balance out other more intense activities. Very often the reason we continue yoga is not the same reason we started with, and sometimes that reason is hard to define. We just know we aren’t the same without it. Our muscles are tighter, our brains race and things seem a bit more frantic.
I’m easily fooled into thinking that tight muscles, racing brain and franticness are the only way. I’ll talk myself out of a Yoga practice by finding other more important things to do, like cleaning the bathroom, checking Facebook or having a coffee. “I’m too busy,” I pronounce confidently, tinged with guilt at being a bad example of a yoga teacher but rather missing the point of what it’s all about.
And then, after some days or hours of avoidance, I come back to my mat. After just a few moments of an opening posture, my breathing slows, I am more present and it is as if everything that was a worry two minutes prior is put into perspective. I think, “This is why I do this.” I am once again aware of my own objective for yoga, albeit in a slightly abstract way.
The Yoga Sutras, depending on the precise translation, describe the ultimate objective of yoga as the control of fluctuations of the mind, as achieving Samadhi, as being conscious of being conscious without thinking, as liberation from mental constraints, as seeing things as they truly are. You might hear it said as true union, or connection with the divine.(1)
Now, after an hour on the mat I will often feel really, really good but it would feel somewhat brazen to suggest it was anything that would take me close to true union or connection with the divine. I’d like to think it’s the case but sometimes I’m not sure. I’m just an Australian girl in her lounge room on a yoga mat and my Catholic upbringing says things like that don’t happen to people like me.
And so I find myself torn between believing my practice has a spiritual benefit and not feeling I have a right to describe it as such in the language I see in the texts, or even in other people’s blogs.
During my studies in Yogic Education at Université de Lille II, we explored a new place for yoga in the west. We studied and researched the role of a yogic education in a context of western health – which included finding an appropriate language.
The reality is that your belief systems will affect how you make sense of a yoga class. Your culture will have an impact on the way you articulate your experience in that class. And your life experience will determine how you actually carry out your yoga practice.
So it makes sense that how you express Samadhi or divine union is heavily dependent on where and how you live. Controlling the fluctuations of the mind may manifest for you as handling work stress differently; liberation from mental constraints could shine through when you realise your partner just might be right after all; and perhaps, for now, true union is sitting on the beach, content and knowing that work and life will be and are OK.
However you experience your intention for yoga, notice it. Be present to how you change physically and mentally, and let that growth extend beyond the yoga mat. Connect with your own experience of a yogic education in the world in which you live – and from there develop your own awareness of just why you practice.
NB Many of the texts I use are French translations so you may see me use some different spellings for certain Sanskrit words.
References and inspiration:
Chandrika Gibson is a naturopath and yoga therapist and writes regularly about the integration of yoga in every day life in Nova Magazine. Dr Deb Zucker of Vital Medicine, inspired me in a lecture with the idea of nourishing as a means of enabling future health. Yoga for Dummies was also sitting on my housemate’s bookshelf and it does come in handy for quick references. (Some stuff does require a double check, though.) (1) –