In the first chapter of the Sutras, Patanjali addresses the issue of concentration and gives yogis practices for maintaining calm. In the early sutras, we learn that concentration and breathing exercises are tools for stilling the mind. That stillness, which we must create before we can reach enlightenment, is the goal of yoga.
Many practices yogis use to create stillness are forms of meditation or pranayama (breathing exercises). They are listed in Sutras 1.34 – 1.39.
Tools for Maintaining Calm
In basic terms, the practices Patanjali teaches yogis to use to still the mind include:
- Breath retention or controlled exhalation
- One-pointed focus
- Visualization techniques
- Focusing on inspiration from a guru, prophet, or saint
- Using insight gained from dreams
- Concentrating on anything that is spiritually inspiring
If we continue with practices like these, Patanjali tells us, we will begin to master concentration. We will become spiritually fit, and that will allow us to approach samadhi. Samadhi can be thought of as enlightenment or union with all that is.
The Path to Samadhi
All of yoga leads us to this one goal: samadhi. Samadhi is union with a higher power, the self, or God. While many never reach this ultimate state of being as humans—or at least won’t stay there for long in this lifetime—the journey itself can enrich our lives.
As we strip away the layers of the false self through practices that emphasize maintaining calm and inner peace, it gets easier to let go of the mental distractions that hold us back. Our bodies, minds, and spirits feel better. In short, we become more blissful.
Patanjali tells us that samadhi gives us a better handle on the phenomena of sense perception. In other words, we understand that our mind can play tricks on us, and we learn to master our senses so our minds no longer control us.
Ultimately, we lose our identity—the ego—and become one with all that is.
Why do we need to let the ego go?
We humans are very attached to our identities. We believe our stories and spend most of our lives promoting our egos.
Why does yoga call us to let go of this false self? It’s a question worth pondering. We do need to develop a human identity before we can let it go, so part of our work as human beings it to be individuals. But—and this is the point—we can’t stop there.
Yoga teaches us there is more to our existence than our individuality and separateness. Once we take the leap and recognize this truth, our whole being expands. We become more aware, less fearful, more creative, and more grounded.
You’ve likely experienced the power of such expansion already. If not, keep practicing, working first on maintaining calm. It’s from a place of stillness that we become aware, and from awareness that we let go of what no longer serves us.
Then, the only thing left to do is become part of something greater than ourselves.