Doorway Through the Eight Branches of Yoga

Yoga as Life — By on January 1, 2010 10:00 PM

To see, is to look with eyes wide-awake,
through a mind clear as glass.

By Miriam Sophie

There is something about doorways that tickles my mind into contemplative whirlwind mental journeys. Living in Kyoto, sacred gates, the predecessors of doorways, allow me to keep up a constant mental dance of stepping back and over and through borders and worlds, a limitless hop-skotch game of transformation. Evolution, for the simple recognizing of a passageway is itself always an inner invitation for transformation.

Yoga, like any path of inner awareness, is a doorway. Doorways, by essence, never stand alone, but always exist in relation to the spaces they define on either side of them. Without awareness of those spaces, there is no gateway. Any path must start with an awareness of where we are standing. One of my yoga teachers would sometimes keep us straining in standing pose, or asana, for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.

Going through the doorways, along the path of yoga, need not be ceremoniously silent. Doorways, or gateways, can be, according to each his own rhythm, inner heartbeat and karmic propulsion, walked solemnly, waltzed, danced, grooved, funked, salsa’d, or limboed. (Japan’s Shinto shrines, marked by their vivid red-orange gateways or torii, are often stage to eclectic experimental music and dance performances.)

In yoga, the adroit yogi might vault the doorway in one tremendous high jump, while the rishi incarnated might simply levitate his way through, but most of us will have well time enough to savor the music as we go. Many, with great love and caring, stop to join the band, or the dj tables, to jazz, rock, soul, or spin the others on their way. Some others choose, with enlightening slaps, or even compassionate kicks of clarity to our rear ends, to paddiwhack us others to making it through. These are, of course, our revered and appreciated teachers.

The yoga saint Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras taught eight branches of yoga, calling them Raja Yoga, the king of yogas. Yama and niyama, the first two, are the two feet that hold up the body and spine, standing us up straight. Don’t leave them behind though, as they keep the steady beat that keeps us in rhythm all through the way. With asana we choose our move or groove, and in pranayama, our inner music, and teacher’s guidance, brings us to the doorway. Pratyahara swings us, in silent lotus, jazzy moves, or Travolta disco leap, through the door and onto the other side.

On the other side of the doorway: the lights fall, one beam of light. Focus, attention riveted.

Pratyahara is the shutting off the lights when wanting to sleep, turning off the radio when wanting to concentrate, taking away food when wanting to diet. It is the mind turning its attention away from all its sensory input, temporarily turning off its sense switches.

But turning off the lights doesn’t necessarily bring sleep, as even the occasional insomniac knows. Concentration does not always follow turning off the loud music, though parents may hope, and taking away food does not erase hunger, dieters know well.

Something more is needed.

Dharana, the fixing of the mind’s attention on one object, is the mental hand that holds our mind where we want it, a necessary base of concentration. As the sixth branch of yoga, it is usually translated as one-pointed concentration, leading to the next branch of yoga, dhyana, or meditation.

Dhyana, the seventh branch, is where a concentrated state of meditation begins. It is the magic glue that keeps the mind in fixed focus without effort or exertion, by the power of concentration. With the achievement of dhyana, the yogi enters the altered level of consciousness of deep meditation, and, the real fun begins. Or the real work, depending which way we want to describe it. Discovering the power tools box and control switches for the mental machinery we used to assume ran on automatic. You’ve done the training, now fly the plane.

Flying the plane is a practice. Samadhi, the eighth branch of yoga, is the realization. It is the fixing of the mind in meditation without an object of concentration; once the deep meditative state is achieved, the mind holds its concentration without effort, without the superglue to fix it, and even without the object to glue it. The plane becomes a space ship, and the rules of gravity no longer apply. The mind is weightless, with no mental or sensory distractions to bog it down. In true peace of mind, it is able to see what it can’t usually see, do what it can’t usually do; the millions of stars in the sky when all the city lights are turned off, the sudden energy of a busy mom when the kids take a rare nap. An effortless float in the Dead Sea.

In samadhi, the mind feels the limitlessness of infinite space, and the blissful peace of gravity-free buoyancy, without any negativities holding it down. A temporary liberation gives insight to its reality, letting us realize that its not a super-metaphysical esoteric myth nor a superhero impossible feat, but rather something most basic and simple. We are not one mere ego but part of the infinite universe, in all its miraculous creation, starting from our smallest molecules. As human beings and as animals, as life itself and as matter and elements, we share something essential with everything around us. Experiencing that bond inside, without the fetters of our personal desires, resentments and hurts, gives rise to a tremendous feeling of love and harmony for everything around us. A non-self-based love gives us the support and clarity to see our angers, resentments and attachments as rooted in our ego-centered focus. This clarity weakens our negativities and attachments, dissolving them over time as we widen our lens, from a self-pointed Skype camera, to the Hubble telescope.

Samadhi, on one level, is a temporary state of meditation that gives us a glimpse of enlightenment. On another level, it is the achievement of liberation, when the mind remains always united with the infinite universe it is a part of, in a state of bliss and peace and love for everything around it. If for one moment this is possible, then we can know that it is possible for all moments.

Moment to moment, we always have a new chance to go for that glimpse of enlightenment. Be an astronaut; decide, for one moment, to let go of all those weighty negative bonds, and let yourself float in blissful buoyancy of a self that is as infinite as the universe and holds everything within it. Even ‘that’ person, even the one who did that, and said that, even that bitter memory, that painful argument with a loved one, and that craving attachment, all of it dissolves inside the infinite universe that is you and that is love.

Start by simply standing. Take in the beat of yama and niyama. Body finds its natural rhythm with asana, in the walk, stroll, langourous bellydance, breakdance, hip-hop, groove or swing that we choose to move forward. Pranayama moves the music inward, that inner harmony being the key that lets us through the doorway. In pratyahara’s insulated sound room, the mind is fully attuned to the music with no sensory or mental input distractions, allowing dharana, one-pointed concentration on the music. With dhyana, meditation, the mind finds the effortless concentration in which we no longer need the insulation of the sound room, or the machines to play the music; we are in the music. In samadhi, we no longer hear music. We are the music itself, one instrument in the infinite orchestra of the universe.

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  1. I truly enjoyed this. It is very educational and useful. I will return to check on upcoming posts.

  2. Miriam says:

    Thank you Healthy Eating Tips, I’m glad you could enjoy it and thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. – Miriam

  3. This was actually an interesting matter, I’m very lucky to have the ability to find this from google.

  4. I send my deepest condolences to the two Chinese students were killed

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