The 8 Limbs of Yoga - Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi

The last three of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga represent the true purpose of any yoga practice: the ability to sit quietly in meditation and to achieve the calm state of total equilibrium known as samadhi.

The first stage is dharana, or concentration (from the root dhri, to hold or retain).  The Yoga Sutras define this as the binding of consciousness to a single point.  Dharana is the practice of continuously holding your attention to a single focus; it is this single-pointed focus that precedes meditation.  A variety of objects may be used in the practice of dharana - mantra, for example, or concentration on a chosen deity; you might focus on your breath, or an object that inspires you.  Through this focus of attention, the functions of the mind are controlled and brought to one focal point.  The more you practice, the more you find that you are able to maintain this steady focus for a longer time without becoming distracted. 

The deepening of dharana leads naturally to dhyana, or meditation.  Dhyana is the practise of an uninterrupted, constant flow of intense focus and concentration; it is total absorption; it is the maintenance of a steady and profound contemplative observation.  Meditation is a fundamental technique common to all yoga paths and it takes practice and patience.  Recent scientific research demonstrates the manifold physical and mental benefits of meditation, but it's main benefit is an abiding sense of calm peacefulness.
Both dharana and dhyana may be experienced during yoga asana practice: dharana is found in that one-pointed concentration on breath and movement that you bring to your mat, when you deliberately focus your mind and your efforts on your yoga practice to the exclusion of all else.  Dhyana is experienced when you find yourself in that wonderful state of being completely absorbed in your practice, with your mind clear and focused; when you are 100% in the flow. 


Samadhi is the final stage of Patanjali's eightfold yoga path - achieving lasting samadhi is the ultimate goal.  In dharana or dhyana we may find ourselves back in our own minds, or distracted from what we are doing.  In samadhi, we have blended seamlessly into the experience, so that we have no sense of ourselves as separate beings 'meditating' or 'doing' yoga; rather, we have become our practice and it has become us.  The Brahmana-Upanishad calls it the "perfect forgetting" of the state of meditation that precedes it.  It is the dissolution of our sense of separateness and union with the divine/the perfect centre.  It is connection; it is a feeling unbounded by our physical selves; it is bliss.  It is love.

The teacher and former monk Carlos Pomeda explains that samadhi is our natural state.  Viewed in this way, Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga provide a process for getting yourself out of the way so that you can experience the essential beauty of who you already are.  Thus, by practising the yamas and niyamas, you develop emotional stability; by practising asana you maintain physical health and vitality; through pranayama practice you learn to conserve your energy and to maintain your equilibrium; through pratyahara you develop willpower and learn to detach from worldly distractions...  Dhyana, dharana and samadhi form the last few steps (each of them intimately linked with each other) to the peaceful, calm centre of ourselves, which is always there, waiting to be rediscovered.

"Samadhi is your very nature in its absolute clarity, in its absolute purity, in its absolute awareness.  Samadhi is your natural home."
Swami Rajneesh



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