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Exploring The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Dharana

by Amy Collins

For those who have just joined our exploration of The Eight Limbs of Yoga, it’s an all-encompassing look at living the life of a yogi. We’ve looked at the Yamas, the first limb. Then we looked at the Niyamas. Then we explored the asana – the poses, and pranayama – the control of the breath. In our last chat, we talked about the fifth limb – Pratyahara. This means to withdraw from our senses and take the focus internally. This took our discussion a little further into concepts that can be more difficult to grasp, yet equally as important in the progression of our practice.

The Benefits and Purpose of Dharana

The practice of dharana is one that we all find difficult in this modern day and age. We are constantly going, moving, thinking, talking, and acting. And usually we are focusing on a million things at once. While sometimes this is glorified as multi-taking, the more we learn about mindfulness and meditation, the more we know this isn’t good for our health and wellbeing. The sixth limb of yoga is dharana, which means concentration. And it’s this step, which prepares us for mediation. A very important part of the yogi way of life.

In the practice of pratyahara – the fifth limb, we make a deliberate and conscious effort to withdraw our attention away from the external stimulus being presented to us. Now that we have let all of that go, dharana asks us to tackle the fluctuations of the mind. Probably a more demanding task. It asks us to slow down the constant flow of the mind and find concentration on one thing. That could be a mantra, an image of a deity, and it’s suggested we do this for extended periods of time in order to lead us to meditation. It asks us to focus on one thing, sound, or image, at the exclusion of everything else. External stimuli and internal fluctuations included.

We have been building up to this in our practice. The poses and the breath give us more control over the body and mind than we often give ourselves credit for. This is simply the next logical step.

Some of the easiest ways to practice dharana

Mantra – the mind likes things to hold on to. And a mantra can be just that. Repeat a word or phase, such as ‘I am’ over and over. It can start to get a little messy in the mind, but it gives your mind an anchor. It also makes it easy to realise when your mind as swayed, as the mantra stops. When it does, just gently bring it back.

An image – there are many deity’s in yoga philosophy. You can use an image of them, in your mind, or you can use a picture and retain focus on that image exclusively. This can be a little harder as the mind can really shift and shape images, but again, when the mind does start to shift the image, re-set and start again.

A chakra or energy centre – sometimes we need a physical hold to keep the mind still. Focusing your attention on once space within the body can be really helpful in the practice of dharana. For example, bring your awareness to the centre of the chest, or the heart chakra and feel everything that’s happening there. It creates a more tangible object for the direction of your focus.