Samyama: How Yogis Gain Knowledge Through Experience


Who am I? (Or who are you?) What is the meaning of life? What is time? If you’ve wondered about questions like these, you may want to explore the yogic practice of samyama. Samyama helps yogis understand who we are and how we fit into the world as we know it and as we have yet to know it.

Many of the yoga sutras relate to the concept of inner knowing, direct knowledge, or samyama. In sutra 3.16 (as translated by Reverend Jaganath Carrera), we read:

By practicing samyama on the three stages of evolution comes knowledge of the past and future.

The Techniques of Yoga: The Practice of Samyama

As you’ve probably noticed, yoga consists of many practices. Yogis learn to quiet the mind, control of the body and senses, focus and contemplate on our true nature, and much more. All these practices bring us beyond nature and the senses to a new understanding of reality.

Patanjali spoke of attainments—levels of experience, in a sense—that we may achieve along the spiritual path when we practice samyama. Here are a few things we may achieve with this practice:

  • Understanding the true meanings of words (sutra 3.17)
  • Knowledge of past lives (sutra 3.18)
  • Understanding the minds of others (sutra 3.19)

It’s interesting to note, though, that Patanjali does not suggest we can understand why people think the way they do, only what they think! This is important, because to truly live in harmony, we need to give people the benefit of the doubt. That often means accepting things in others that we may not agree with or like.

Magical Yogic Powers

Apparently, adept yogis can perceive things on a level that makes them appear to become invisible.

By samyama on the form of one’s body (and by) checking the power of perception by intercepting light from the eyes of the observer, the body becomes invisible. (sutra 3.21)

Further, yogis can move beyond the senses, such as sound, touch, taste, and smell!

In the same way, the disappearance of the sound (and touch, taste, smell, and so on) is explained. (sutra 3.22)

It’s almost as if Patanjali is suggesting that life is but a dream.

Karma and The Practice of Samyama

The next sutra considers karma and how yogis can integrate an understanding of two kinds of karma.

Karmas are of two kinds: quickly manifesting and slowly manifesting. By samyama on them or on the portents of death, the knowledge of the time of death is obtained.

According to Reverend Carrera, what Patanjali is explaining here is the ability of an adept yogi to understand the lessons of past lives and how they relate to the present life. In this way, he or she knows when it is time to move to the life after this one.

This may all seem like fantasy, but the point is yoga—specifically samyama—helps us understand our true nature. In subsequent sutras, we learn of even more amazing powers that yoga can bring, including the ability to take on the positive qualities we see in others.

By samyama on friendliness and other such qualities, the power to transmit them is obtained. (sutra 3.24)

Stay tuned for more about the amazing powers of yoga!

Maria Kuzmiak

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