Dharana: Yoga Concentration

Dharana is the 6th stage of Patanjali’s classical 8-limb ashtanga yoga. …


Here, we’re entering the ‘higher stages’ of yoga sadhana, so to speak … the realm known as Samyama Yoga, which encompasses the inner practices of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (mystic absorption).

In the “Yoga Sutras”, sage Patanjali illustrates quite clearly the progressive process at these higher stages of yoga practice. The penultimate goal of our yoga sadhana is the absorption into the highest states of consciousness (samadhi).

… But in order to attain this, one must achieve mastery in the subtle practice of meditation

… And in order to gain success in meditation, one must first perfect the art of ‘concentration’.

What is Dharana Yoga?

According to modern psychology, the mind cannot remain fixated on any solitary object for any considerable period. Rather, it must in some way remain moving, although the boundaries of that movement can be constrained.

For instance, one can remain ‘concentrated’ on a book to the exclusion of all external attentions, yet that concentration is dynamic in the sense that one’s mind is engrossed in the lively fantasy of the story, or intellectual analysis of the subject matter.

Similarly, one could be performing a very focused task, such as drawing or painting, building a highly detailed model, playing chess, rock-climbing, playing a musical instrument or bird-watching, yet the mind remains active, albeit contained within a very defined range of things.

Practice Makes Perfect

Needless to say, the more skilled or adept one becomes in this ‘restriction of the mental field’ the more proficient one becomes at certain tasks. This mastery is exhibited by people who are at the forefront of all fields in life, be it sportsman/women, artists, brain surgeons, or what have you.

Beyond Focus

But according to Eastern psychology, though concentration begins with this form of ‘controlled’ or ‘contained’ movement of the mind, it is possible to attain a further state wherein all mental movement stops. At this point, the mind ‘becomes one’ with the essential nature of the object of concentration, and therefore can go no further.

It is this state of lack of movement (completely stopping the mind, so-to-speak), yet with awareness (illumination), that the mind must first attain in order to be able to make the ‘jump’ from one plane (of consciousness) to the other — which is the next stage of yoga, dhyana or meditation.

Yoga Concentrating – easier said than done.

Patanjali described dharana as “the binding of the mind to a particular place” — simple and precise, but oh-so-difficult to do!

Arjuna, the great warrior and leader of the Pandava army, complains to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita:

“The mind is restless, turbulent and strong, as difficult to curb as the wind.”
~ Ch.6, V34

Swami Gitananda Giri puts further weight upon this truth for the ordinary man/woman:

“This statement is from the greatest archer of his time, a man who was able to hit with an arrow the eye of a rotating metal fish suspended from a high ceiling, by looking at its reflection in a pool of water. If a man of such marvellous skill and concentration cold complain that his mind was ‘difficult to tame as the wind’, what of lesser mortals?”

One of the biggest challenges throughout the ages is keeping the ‘monkey mind’ quiet. Concentration is like a muscle — its ability increases with practice, and diminishes with disuse.

So just as we have to perform regular physical exercises to keep the body strong and fit, we also have to exercise the mind in order that it will be capable of being kept still and focused.

In yoga, there are many effective concentration techniques …   [continued]

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