THE SIXTH LIMB OF YOGA DHARANA —Concentration
Continuing our discusion of the eight limbs of yoga set forth by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, we turn to the sixth limb, Concentration or Dharana.
In Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BKS Iyengar states that the first five limbs of yoga comprise the external quest. He sums them up as follows: “Through the practice of the ten yoga principles (yama and niyama), the spiritual seeker develops emotional stability. Through postures (asana), he keeps his body, the abode of the soul, free from disease. In breath control (pranayama), he learns to stop the dissipation of energy by regulating its flow for proper distribution throughout his body and mind. Through sense withdrawal (pratyahara), he develops willpower, detaches himself from the organs of senses and acquires clarity of thought.” (p. 167) Then, Iyengar says, the seeker ready to begin the internal quest through concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and sublime transcendence (samadhi).
According to Iyengar’s translation of sutra #1 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras Book III — “Fixing the consciousness on one point or region is concentration (dharana). Dharana means focus of attention. Focusing the attention on a chosen point or area, within or outside the body, is concentration. Byconcentration, the functions of the mind are controlled and brought to one focal point.” p.167
Concentration is the practice of training your mind to detach from its rampant chatter and prepare for meditation. An outward form of concentration is gazing (tradak), whereby you learn to still the mind by focusing on an object such as a candle or sacred image. Inward focus is assisted by following the breath within and focusing attention on a specific area such as the tip of the nose, the third eye, or the place of perfect stillness within.
Speaking of dharana in his commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda wrote– “This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, you bringing it back; its running, your bringing it back. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you. You will be able to say, “Okay, sit there quietly.” And it will. At that point you are meditating. Until then you are training yourself to meditate. Training your mind to meditate is what is called dharana.” p. 173
Like anything else, the development of concentration takes practice. It is recommended that we develop a daily sitting practice, the same time each day, morning and evening. What I like to do is frequent “drop-ins.” At several points during my day, I will let go of it all (drop everything that is calling for my attention), sit quietly, follow the breath inside, nestle into my soul essence for a short while, then move on to the next thing refreshed. Next month, we will discuss what the famous yogis say about the seventh limb, meditation or dhyana. In the meantime, you might enjoy practicing daily sittings and/or ‘drop-ins.”
BKS Iyengar: Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. California: Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.
Sri Swami Satchidananda: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications, 1990.