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Everything you need to know about Dharana, the 6th limb of Ashtanga Yoga

Everything you need to know about Dharana, the 6th limb of Ashtanga Yoga

Dharana or Concentration is the sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga. It refers to concentration of the mind by fixing the mind on a particular object. This could be concentration on an external object such as a symbol, deity, image, or even the sun or moon. Internal concentration could be on a mantra or a chakra. 

What does the concept of Dharana mean? 

Dharana or concentration is a stepping stone to Dhyana or meditation, which is followed by Samadhi (enlightenment). These three limbs form ‘Sanyam’, which means control. In simple terms, they refer to internal control of the mind. They are progressive in the sense that you can only reach Dhyana and Samadhi after perfecting Dharana. 

Dharana, specifically, is concentration on a single spot or subject, while Dhyana is the state where total concentration is achieved. Dharana is all about fixing complete attention on one place or object at a time. The awareness flows continuously like a steam of oil (Dhara - Smooth, continuous flow ). Unlike water, that breaks and isnt continuous. This quality of the mind is referred to as “ekagra” - one pointed state of mind by yogis and scholars.    

Now, to achieve Dharana one must gain mastery over the earlier limbs, that is, asana, pranayama and pratyahara (yama and niyama, the first two limbs are practiced in tandem throughout one’s journey). By gaining control over one’s body, breath and mind one can achieve Dharana. Similarly, by practicing Dharana regularly, one can concentrate better during the practice of an asana or pranayama. The ability to focus is better and stronger. The mind remains calm and centered irrespective of any position (this is what Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra Sthiram Sukam Asanam is all about - to remain steady and comfortable in any position or situation). 

With practice and over time, in the state of real Dharana one will experience all body-consciousness and thoughts coming to a place of stillness, which will allow clear, pointed focus on the object of meditation. 

A wonderful example of Dharana is from the epic, The Mahabharata, where Dronacharya, the teacher of archery, is holding a contest. The head of a vulture’s statue placed on a high tree is the target for the students. Each student who approaches is asked ‘what do you see?’. The replies Dronacharya gets are, “I see you, my teacher, the tree, the sky, and all who have gathered around.” These students miss their target. Finally, Arjuna approaches. He is asked what he sees, and his response is , “I see the head of the bird.” Dronacharya asks if he sees anything else. He says he only sees the head of the bird. He shoots and hits his target. 

The beauty of this example is that Dharana can happen anywhere. It is not just about sitting in meditation. It can be when you are presenting to your boss, when a football player is aiming for the winning goal or a dancer is going on stage for her solo. It is with immense practice and over time that one can achieve this. 

How to prepare for Dharana?

To still the mind and concentrate one must learn to withdraw from sensory perceptions. That is why the Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) is an important preparatory stage. By reducing the perceptions, the mind gets stable. For this, one’s surroundings must be pleasant. Distractions, chaos, noises and strong scents should be minimal or completely avoided. Bright light should also be reduced to a softer one. With this, different objects which seek one’s attention through the senses are reduced to a minimum. 

Sitting in the Lotus pose (Padmasana) or Easy pose (Sukhasana) is advisable. The posture should be firm yet comfortable. A meditation cushion can be used. If the eyes are open, they should be fixed on the chosen object. Keep the back straight and take wall support if that’s more comfortable. 

How to practice Dharana? 

The practice of Dharana begins with sitting in a calm place in a comfortable position. For internal focus, keep the eyes closed and focus on the object of your choice (mantra, chakra, etc.). If you are keeping the eyes open, then focus on an external object. You can start with practicing for 5-10 minutes and slowly increase your duration. 

While practicing the mind may tend to get distracted. Every time it wanders, bring it back to the object. With practice, the chances of getting distracted will reduce. When you achieve complete concentration without distraction, you have achieved Dharana. 

The actual time of Dharana might be only for a few minutes, and the other time spent in controlling and focusing the mind. But don’t worry, with practice the time of Dharana will increase. You will gradually become ready for the next stage, Dhyana. 

Parting Thoughts 

When you reach the state of Dharana, you will experience a calm, pleasant and peaceful state of mind. This high state of concentration will enable you to be more efficient, productive and focused in everyday life (as in the examples above) and to remain stable and centered. Your self-awareness will increase, reducing wavering attitudes, thoughts and behaviors. 

Everything you need to know about Dharana, the 6th limb of Ashtanga Yoga
Shvasa Editorial Team

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