When was the last time you were able to take the time to put your energy into one thing?
A time when your focus was solely on the task in hand and there were no other distractions or thoughts popping up to lure you away from it?
When was the last time you felt truly focused and tuned in to your intention?
Can you think of one?
It’s not easy, huh?
In this day and age, we are constantly on the go. We are fed with external stimuli left, right and center and when we aren’t…? We go looking for it. Helloooo 30 minute mindless Instagram scroll!
My point is, we don’t often pay attention to…well….paying attention.
When it comes to meditation and finding our way to liberation and eternal peace, this may serve as a roadblock.
Safe to say it’s not easy tuning out from the outside world when we are programmed from an early age to be tuned in with the volume all the way up.
So this is where the sixth limb of yoga comes in.
Yup, Patanjali has come through again as a guiding light and reminder to take the time to practice tuning out.
The sixth limb ‘Dharana’ is all about concentration…so buckle in and don’t lose focus folks, we got some learnin’ to do!
What is Dharana?
In the simplest of terms, Dhāraṇā is translated as “collection or concentration of the mind”. The aim is to fix your mind to a particular idea or bring your focus to an individual point. It’s about shutting out the noise around you as well as within you and allowing the mind to bind consciously to one object of meditation. When practicing Dharana correctly, all conscious bodily sensations, fleeting thoughts and body awareness cease.
The purpose of Dharana practice is to allow the mind to calm down. So often we don’t take a moment to just stop and breathe. We don’t allow the mind to recuperate after a heavy day of problem-solving at work or an exciting life event that caused a million and one thoughts to rush through it.
By taking this time and doing the work, we are not only giving the mind a much-needed break but we are also training our minds to journey deeper into an effective meditation practice.
If you’ve been studying the eight limbs of yoga, you’ll know that the fifth limb Pratyahara is all about the withdrawal of the senses and turning your attention inwards. Dharana is kind of like that but with a specific intention in mind. It’s like an ultra-zoom on a particular point of focus which could be anything from a specific part of your body to a certain thought or even honing in on a particular chakra.
I know what you’re thinking…how on EARTH am I going to focus my mind on just one thing when I’ve had to fight off several random thoughts that have popped into my head while reading the last few sentences alone?!
Well yea, I hear ya. It’s not easy. But this is what the practice is all about. This is why it’s called a practice.
So let me share with you a few good places to start….
How do I practice Dharana?
As a yogi, your entire yoga practice building up to the 6th limb is, in fact, preparing you for Dharana through progressive stages. It has given you the tools to sink into deep concentration and pure consciousness.
Thanks to your regular practice and to your yoga teacher for forcing you to say mantras, it’s time to put everything together in this practice of focused concentration.
Popular in Kundalini yoga and traditional hatha yoga practices in particular, repeating either silently or out loud a specific mantra or set of words is a simple but effective way of focusing your mind. You can set a timer and begin chanting/silently repeating the words so that you aren’t counting alongside reciting. Some yogis also like to use mala beads as a tool to ensure they are using the mantra 108 times.
Visualizing and manifesting a particular desire of outcome is a great way of focusing the mind for a positive purpose. By taking our attention away from negative thoughts, fears and insecurities, we can allow ourselves to focus solely on the end goal and develop clarity around what needs to be done to achieve it. Visualize yourself exactly as you would like to be and keep your focus on how it feels, what it looks like and where you are.
>>Tratak (candle gazing)
You may have heard of this one before…(shoutout to the Wii fit). Candle gazing is as easy as it sounds really! Focusing on a flame is said to improve your concentration, awareness, mood and self-confidence. It is also helpful in bringing you into a deep meditation as your focus on the flame crowds out any input from your daily life.
>>Focusing on the breath
If you’re a yogi, then you know what you’re doing here. Sit in a comfortable position or lie down allowing the body to completely soften and relax. Begin to tune into the rhythm of your breath and just allow thoughts to come and go without judgment.
Let your breath be your focus so that when you notice the mind starting to wander, you always have your breath to return to. Have a sense of being anchored to your breath, as each emotion swirls through your mind, come back to your breath and the present moment.
What is the difference between Dharana and Dhyana?
This can be super confusing. Dhyana (meditation) is the seventh limb of yoga. Essentially Dharana is setting ourselves up for an easier transition into dhyana.
Think of it like a stream flowing down the river. If Dharana is focusing on each individual droplet, dhyana is seeing the river as a whole. When it comes to our practice, Dharana is an intentional focus on one specific point whereas dhyana doesn’t need a point, it just simply is the focus.
When we practice enough, focus isn’t an intentional practice, it just happens and leads into Dhyana.
In sport, this would be called ‘getting in the zone’.
Or as Zac Efron once said in 2006, ‘You gotta, get’cha, get’cha head in the game’
Always remember that your practice is a marathon, not a sprint.
Take your time, allow yourself space to explore what works for you and treat yourself with compassion and patience when committing to your intention.
While these things may seem simple and focus may not feel like the most enduring task, in the world we live in today, it can take real effort to achieve consistency in our spiritual quests!
(Um, hello yamas and niyamas.)
So next time you get on your yoga mat to do your asana practice, add in pranayama breathing, a Drishti, and focused concentration to pull it all together.
And then from there, you’ve got the foundation for a strong meditation practice, which is what comes after the sixth limb.
Don’t worry, you’re not expected to become a meditator overnight. That’s what the eight limb path is for 😉
Just setting the intention to do your best is enough.
YOU are enough.
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