Dharana is the act of training the mind to focus on one specific object. Simple in theory, yet difficult to practice! Practicing Dharana, or concentration, gives us the opportunity to learn about the thoughts that tend to distract us and come to learn the patterns of the mind. With time and consistent practice, we strengthen our control over the mind and our ability to achieve deep concentration.
The Meditation Misconception
In the modern world, we (including myself) tend to refer to meditation as the act of focusing our attention on some object, be it the breath, the body, a mantra or an image. While this is okay because there’s an agreed understanding of what we mean by ‘meditation’, the true definition is actually slightly different. Focusing on one object is actually a Dharana practice, the goal of which is to one day achieve true meditation which can take years and years of practice (I’ll talk more about this in my next post about Dhyana!).
Dharana is the 6th limb of Yoga, following the 5th limb which is Pratyahara. It is clear why Pratyahara is an important stage before Dharana – without practicing withdrawing from the senses, we cannot give our full attention to the chosen object because we would be constantly distracted by our automatic responses to the senses.
How can we practice Dharana?
Use an object of focus. It is much easier to focus on something than to focus on nothing. The theory behind it is that after enough concentration and contemplation of the object, the meditator and the object merge to become one, thus achieving a ‘oneness’ state which is the next limb of Ashtanga yoga – Dhyana.
Commonly used objects of focus include:
- The breath. Focus on the flow of the breath into and out of the body. The breath is a great tool to focus on because it is constantly with us throughout our entire lives.
- The body. Practice a body scan; starting at the toes, focus on the sensations in the toes and letting go of tension. Slowly move up the body, bringing your attention to one body part / muscle at a time.
- Mantra. This can be any word, phrase or prayer that resonates with you. Repeat it out loud or in your head, focusing on the vibrations it creates in your body and the contemplating the meaning of the mantra.
- A flame. Trataka is the practice of candle-gazing and is a very soothing practice. Light a candle in a dark room and fix a soft gaze on the candle.
- Chakras. Starting at the root chakra, focus on releasing physical and emotional blocks before moving up to the next chakra, all the way up to the crown of the head.
Why Practice Dharana?
There are benefits to practicing concentration that you can experience in your day-to-day life.
- As you train your mind to get better at focusing, you may find your productivity at work improving.
- You also become better at managing your emotions since you can distinguish between helpful and non-helpful thoughts, avoiding negative thought patterns and focusing on positive thoughts instead.
- Your willpower improves. You have greater control over your mind which controls your body, so you will find yourself being able to achieve your goals by taking the necessary action without being held back by laziness or distraction.
The ultimate goal of Dharana is to merge with the object to achieve Dhyana, essentially transforming concentration into meditation. It is no easy feat to tame the monkey mind, however the practice of Dharana is an ongoing journey, so be patient, committed and enjoy the experience along the way!