yoga certificationBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

The practice of dharana, or Yogic concentration, is the sixth limb of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga system, as outlined in depth in his Yoga Sutras. Dharana is translated as concentrating with an unwavering single-pointed focus on one object or task. This inward focus arises from Patanjali’s fifth limb, which emphasizes pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses, from all external stimuli. Patanjali defines dharana as “the binding of the mind to a particular place.” The practice of dharana is a meditative practice of deeply held concentration on one object, mantra, or contemplative thought. This practice trains the mind to be able to hold its focus in a one-pointed manner, without wavering. Ultimately, a Yoga practitioner who is adept at the practice of dharana will more easily slip into deeper and deeper states of meditative bliss.

The practice of dharana is deceptively simple. One may wonder, “How difficult can it be to sit still and only focus on the candle flame in front of me?” Or, “Usually I have to multi-task and do five different things simultaneously. This will be a breeze to sit still for ten minutes and focus on my mantra, or hold Warrior One Pose for five breaths, with unwavering concentration.” Many of us find that when we practice dharana in our meditation sessions, or while practicing Yoga asanas, the minute we focus our minds with one-pointed concentration, our minds begin to wander and start thinking about work, family issues, relationships, or even the grocery shopping we are planning to do after class! As you practice the essential sixth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, remember to be both compassionate and firm with yourself.

When your mind wanders, gently and firmly re-focus your attention on the object in front of you, a mantra or a contemplative thought, such as a Zen koan. If you are working with the practice of dharana during your Yoga asana practice, balancing poses are wonderful opportunities to practice focusing the mind on one point directly in front of you. For example, if you are practicing Tree Pose, choosing a spot on the floor in front of you and concentrating on that spot, while you hold the pose, will help you to balance in Tree Pose. If your attention wanders, so will your balance. This is a great feedback loop for enhancing your awareness of when your mind is focused and when your mind wanders. As you continue to practice dharana, your mind will become quieter and steadier. Soon you will be able to practice Yoga asanas with one-pointed concentration and settle into a state of restful meditation. With time and practice, your practice of dharana will deepen, and peace will begin to pervade your entire being.

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