Dharana is the sixth stage or limb of Patanjali’s Eight-fold Yoga path. It may be translated as ‘concentration of the mind’ or ‘single focus’. You could define dharana as: ‘the mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts’. It is the initial step of deep concentrative meditation. The essential idea is to hold your concentration or focus of attention in one direction instead of radiating out in a million different directions. Think about the Olympic athletes. While breaking world records they practice dharana and delivering peak performance.
So how do you learn to be as focused as an Olympic athlete? You can practice dharana using many different techniques. In fact, life provides you with ongoing series of opportunities to practice concentration of the mind. Washing the dishes, driving your car, shopping or walking are all activities which you can use as a concentration practice. The state of deep concentration is what we all are looking for in our lives; at work, at home and in our hobbies we are seeking flow. If I practice a balance pose – such as Virabhadrasana III – and I start to think and let my attention wander off, I easily loose my balance and move away from my peak performance or my flow.
Fortunately, there are many different ways to incorporate the practice of dharana into my yoga postures to maintain a steady and focused mind. You can use pranayama as a technique to increase your concentration and clarity levels. Practicing breathing exercises requires you to be aware of something that you are able to do without conscious awareness. Therefore it takes great discipline to stay focused and not to let your mind drift off or at least notice when your mind does drift off. In conjunction with the breath, you can also focus on the (silent) repetition of words. When you use the technique of repeating a word with each inhale or exhale, it is important that this word refers to qualities that reflect the direction you would like to move – in both your yoga practice and in your life. At times I can struggle with feelings of jealousy or insecurity. Using the words ‘love’ or ‘forgiveness’ supports me to balance my struggles.
I find it helpful to remind myself that the results and quality of my yoga practice are a direct result of what I am thinking about during my practice. The outcomes are rewarding; when your mind is gradually freed form its racing, random nature, you begin to gain control over your emotions and thoughts. It is a step by step process which requires discipline, perseverance and an understanding and practice of the prior limbs. Gradually you are more and more prepared for the practice of meditation. As soon as you become aware of the effects you will be even more motivated and thrilled to continue your practice of concentration of the mind. Who does not like to have a steady and focused mind which enables you to reach your goals – like becoming an Olympic athlete?