In the first chapter of the Yoga Sūtra, called the Samādhi Pāda, Patañjali talks about samādhi. That there are different samādhis which have content in the mind and when those contents are dropped, you experience what is called asaṁprajñāta samādhi, or samādhi with no seed or no pattern of intuition through which the mind concentrates. You get to that state by gradually developing the ability to focus and concentrate the mind on a pattern—any pattern. When the mind lets go like that, there’s this sort of spontaneous insight into the true nature of things as being profoundly interconnected, at which point letting go into the unknown becomes possible, even satisfying. The moment of letting go is usually very short at first. Kind of like what you’d do if you were trying to balance on top of a tall building. You’d stand on one foot near the edge, holding onto the rail and you’d breathe. (Of course, don’t try this at home—metaphor is such a good tool until you take it literally). You’d steady your gaze and make sure the knee in your standing leg was micro bent while your foot was firmly planted and awake. You’d soften your jaw and release your palate to take a deep breath and then for a split second you’d let go of the rail. Hopefully you’d stay steady long enough not to fall and to enjoy a flash of balance before grabbing the rail again. And the letting go into samādhi that Patañjali describes is like this, but it’s letting go of ideas, habits and reflexive responses—the nirodha referred to in the second verse of the Yoga Sūtra.
Patañjali says that at that point, when you let go in this innocent manner, the unknown becomes a sustaining connection to everything. And then you experience, very briefly at first, asaṁprajñāta samādhi. As the chapter progresses, he explains in more detail this process of letting go, and he also explains the obstacles to this type of samādhi. By the end of the first chapter, there is the sense of profound understanding—like you’re hearing something you already know. While at the same time, you’re left quite mystified as to what he is talking about. So, in a sense that too is a letting go. The release of the need to know, the need to reduce something that cannot be reduced to an idea of it.
In chapter two, called the Sādhana Pāda Patañjali elaborates. Sādhana means “what to do” which is good, because the first chapter leaves you with this strange feeling like you can’t tell if you’re excited or nauseated. ”Oh, all you have to do is concentrate your mind with absolute pure attention on whatever arises. Ha!” Patañjali says that this comes naturally for those who have no bodies. For those of us with no body, just the nature of existence causes enlightenment. But for others—which is the rest of us—for us he says you must have great śraddhā or trust and y need great vīrya or courage. You must also have good memory or smṛti.
Memory means that you recognize patterns. Have you ever experienced that? Like when you’re standing there having locked yourself out of your car for the thirtieth time? “Humm, maybe there’s a pattern here.” If you have smṛti or memory, you start to go “Aha!” and that’s when you actually learn something from your experiences. Smṛti, meaning deep memory and it is when you start to see the actual nature of your experiences. After that you must practice samādhi, or concentration of the mind with such absorption that you forget yourself. When you concentrate that thoroughly you’ll find that your mind ceases creating an object and a theoretical observer or subject in what you perceive. Next you practice prajñā, intuitive wisdom or insight into the actual nature of the reality of experience.
There’s a lot more to say about all this, but that’s a starting point for understanding the process of samādhi. When you practice with consistency over a long period of time—not just asana, but all the limbs—it seems to start happening naturally. Gradually you realize you’re tasting those five things, śraddhā, vīrya, smṛti, samādhi, and prajñā. It is so sweet that you want more—and you want to share all this with others. So, you practice more intelligently, and the breath remains the guide. It’s at that point that you too—even living in a body—might spontaneously fall into asaṁprajñāta samādhi and wake up to a flash of the nature of everything. But don’t wish for any form of samādhi with too much rigor, or it won’t happen!