Dhyana means meditation. It is the seventh limb of Ashtanga Yoga after Dharana, which is concentration. Dharana is the first step to meditation while Dhyana is the actual stage of meditation where deep levels of concentration are developed.
‘Dhyana’ is derived from the root words ‘dhi’ and ‘yana’. ‘Dhi’ means to perceive, think or reflect, and ‘yana’ means path, course, journey or movement. Therefore, Dhyana means a process, path or journey of reflection. Another interesting meaning is the derivation of ‘Dhyana’ from the root ‘Dhyai’, which means think, contemplate or meditate, bringing us to a state of meditation.
Dhyana- the seventh limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga
The first six stages of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga prepare us for Dhyana. Dhyana is built upon successfully mastering the practices of asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathwork), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and dharana (concentration). Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi (the 8th limb) form Samyama, a state of complete bliss and full detachment of the mind from external occurrences and worldly bindings, with mind control. During Dhyana, a deeper understanding of the object of meditation is observed. Here, the practitioner is completely immersed in the meditative state that they cannot separate themselves from it.
Mastering the first six limbs of yoga and learning to apply the yamas and niyamas in daily life will enhance one’s experience of Dhyana. It will allow practitioners to achieve the aim of Dhyana, which is to become free of samskaras or tendencies of the mind. During Dharana, practitioners still face distractions. It is not always continuous. But with constant practice, the mind gets focused on the object of concentration and when such is unbroken, it is Dhyana.
Unlike Dharana, Dhyana is not connected to the object of meditation but the focus is on being one with the object in a calm state. Dhyana is a state of mind when there is only a single idea in the mind. In Dhyana, one’s awareness is lifted from all other things and the mind is one with the object of meditation. With practice, as one progresses, one is aware of only the self and the object of meditation and the self becomes one. It is also a state of stilling the mind, such that there is only clear awareness of oneself. All other samskaras or tendencies disappear at this point. It is, essentially, merging with the object of focus in the stage of Dharana. So, for example, if the object of focus was a candle flame in Dharana, in Dhyana, practitioners will feel like they are one with the flame.
How to Practice Dhyana
While it takes immense practice to reach the state of Dhyana, here are a few steps to follow that will help you achieve your goal.
Regularly practice Dharana or concentration. During this time, you might be aware of your thoughts and feelings, and your object of meditation. Let the thoughts and feelings come and go. Simply be aware of the origin.
Easing into Dhyana
As you continue practice you will notice you’re simply observing those thoughts like a spectator. Let them come and go. Gradually try to set them aside bringing your focus to your consciousness and the object of your concentration. You’ll gradually go into a state where your consciousness and the object feel like one. It might occur only for a moment or two initially. Let it be. Simply continue your meditation.
Only with practice will you be able to eliminate thoughts and feelings, sit still, and be aware. After weeks and months of practice you will be able to take those few moments of Dhyana to a few minutes and gradually increase the time. Keep your practice going, let the thoughts and feelings come and go. Remember to be a spectator and not to get distracted. You can add a mudra or hand gesture, such as Chin Mudra. Many of the mudras are effective in improving concentration.
If you’re a beginner learning to meditate, we recommend practicing live with a certified yoga teacher. There are many live online classes, like Shvasa yoga, where you can join for a quick 20-minutes session. When you practice in a live yoga class, your concentration and experience will be far better. Over time, you can start practicing on your own.
Dhyana requires a broader meditative state compared to Dharana. You must be ready to fully immerse yourself in the practice. When you eliminate interruptions, your experience will be stronger. In Dhyana, you will gradually tap into your consciousness and self-awareness. Give yourself time, stay dedicated to your practice and you’ll soon achieve this wonderful state of being.