Dharana – The Discipline of Concentration

The mind has a tendency to run everywhere, aimlessly. Just like a farmer would tie a running calf to the fence so it cannot go out of the way, Dharana helps our mind to achieve the same. When the mind is provided with the object worth focusing on, it stops running and is concentrated on that particular object effortfully.

This is the principle behind Maharshi Patanjali’s 6th limb, Dharana.

Keep on reading to know the meaning behind the word Dharana, its importance in yoga and how to practice it.

What is Dharana?

Dharana refers to a state of mind which is concentrated on one single object, place, or idea. This object can be any image, an altar, or any external or internal idea in one’s mind. Because it is a state of the mind, Dharana is called an aspect of ‘Antaranga Yoga’ (internal limb) by Maharshi Patanjali.

Sage Patanjali, aka the father of classical yoga, has given Dharana 6th place in his Ashtanga Yoga (8 limbs of Yoga). It comes after Pratyahara, which is control over the senses. It is only when a person gets his senses under control, when he is not easily distracted by any sensual pleasures, he is at the stage where he is able to achieve Dharana.

Dharana reduces the disturbances of the human mind. We tend to run behind the world that is shown to us by our five senses. The practice of Dharana calms the mind down. It separates the mind from the trouble-causing experiences and takes it toward focused attention.

When the mind is concentrated on one single idea or object, a person can gather all the details about that object of meditation. His mind’s territory is restricted to that particular object or idea so that there is no way for other troubling thoughts to get in.

The Meaning of Dharana

The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word Dharana is ‘concentration’. The root prefix dhā means ‘the act of holding or retaining strongly’ and ana means ‘an object, thought or good memory’.

In the practice of Dharana, ‘the object’ of focus is more important rather than the ‘act of focusing’. However, once you are completely into the process (of concentrating) so that mind is uninterrupted both by external or internal distractions, the object no longer matters. Therefore, Dharana is often translated as “one-pointed concentration” or “focused concentration”.

The Yoga Sutras defining Dharana goes like this –


Patanjali yoga sutra

“Dhesha Bandha Chittasya Dharana”

— Maharishi Patanjali, Yoga Sutras

It means that to engage the always wavering mind, we need to give it a point to focus. When we provide the mind with some object to focus on, it can wander around that territory but will not cross it. Just as when the calf is tied to the fence, it is given some way to wander around the fence, but it will not be able to go beyond.

But why perform Dharana? What is the need of a focused mind?

We often find ourselves forgetting simple things. Keeping track of the daily chores we have to do becomes difficult. We get irritated when we don’t remember the important stuff and often feel distracted while doing the simplest of the jobs.

Dharana makes us eliminate all the unnecessary and guide our mind toward the one thing that is relevant for our Sadhana. It is the effortful exercise that we perform to reach the effortless state which comes after.

We face distress over trivial matters and end up disturbing our mental and physical health. Most of these feelings that stem from the distress are unknown to us or unconscious in nature. The job of Dharana is to bring effortful attention to one object or try to concentrate on one single idea.

This helps bring our unconscious processes into consciousness and effortfully get rid of them. When the person stabilizes in the Dharana phase, this effortful focusing slowly becomes effortless and he moves forward on the path of Dhyana, the next limb of Yoga.

How is Dharana different from Dhyana and Samadhi?

Patanjali’s 8 limbs of Yoga are interconnected in a way that every previous limb leads to the next limbs. As in the case of Dharana, it results after Pratyahara, that is when the person has gotten rid of all his desires of the senses. And the stage of Dharana, when stabilized, leads further to Dhyana.

Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are combinedly called Samyama Yoga. But each of these limbs has different characteristics.

There are a few fundamental differences among Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

1. Dharana requires meditating on a single object or idea, whereas Dhyana is a broad concentration. The state of Dhyana is achieved only when the person has successfully concentrated his mind on one idea for a long time and stabilizes there.

2. Another way in which Dharana differs from Dhyana is that Dharana requires effortful focusing. A person meditating on an idea has to carefully stay focused on that particular thought. Dharana is the process of bringing an object to the centre of our attention and meditating on it further. Whereas Dhyana is more of an effortless focusing that automatically happens after the person passes the Dharana phase.

3. There are fragmented elements of focus in the state of Dharana. A person might be aware of his surroundings and frequently gets disturbed by them. He struggles to stay focused, cancelling the thoughts that out of the circumference of the object the person is meditating. Dhyana is more of a continuous flow where there are no fragments. 

How to Practice Dharana?

trataka
The practice of Trataka for concentration. Image: Fitsri

To practice Dharana or concentrate our mind on a particular object, we need to first cut out all the unwanted stuff going on in our minds. Most of this work is achieved when a person practices Pratyahara. Now in the next phase, the person can divert his mind to such an object or idea that is worth catching his attention.

Here are some ways you can practice Dharana regularly.

1. Do One Thing at a Time

Begin your day with a great workout and Pranayama. Along with that, prepare a list of tasks that you have to complete in a day. And as you go along completing your work, make sure that you focus on one thing at a time. Divided attention is no good for the practice of Dharana.

When we practice the art of focusing on one job at a time, we excel in it. Thus, to settle in the Dharana phase, we have to effortfully complete one task at a time and take up the next one. That is how Dharana helps us in day-to-day life.

2. Chant a Mantra

Mantra yoga offers peace and quiet to the mind. If a person practices regular chanting, he can develop peace within by repeatedly chanting it. With consistent, repeated chanting, his mind gets elevated to a consciously focused state. This is exactly the stage expected in Dharana.

3. Do Trataka

Trataka is the candle-gazing exercise for concentration. When a person regularly practices Trataka, his mind learns to be stable and focused. Also, with practice, the person learns to stay in the Dharana phase for a longer time.

One aspect of Trataka involves effortfully gazing at the flame of the candle. In this, a person has to carefully maintain his sight on the flame without blinking. This exercise increases the person’s concentration, which he can also apply in his routine tasks.

4. Deep Breathing

Deep breathing exercises are most important to turn your mind inward. When we observe our breathing process carefully, our mind gathers all its attention around that process. We feel at peace at the same time staying focused.

If at all your mind starts wandering, you bring it back to your breathing. Thus, the Dharana phase begins when you effortfully focus your mind in one place. 

The Importance of Dharana

We need a focused mind to get through the demands of our age. There is a lot of information coming through various channels like media, internet, books, YouTube. Everywhere is filled with more and more information. The pressure on the mind is so high that most of our fatigue, these days, is mental.

Dharana is that attentive state of mind, which offers peace and calm, along with providing ‘Ekagrata’ or concentration. A concentrated mind is definitely the productive and creative one. Dharana guides us to negate the irrelevant, unnecessary thoughts and choose the path of focus.

It is the process through which we become conscious of our troubles and learn to effortfully take our minds elsewhere where there is peace and bliss. Dharana is the state of conscious attention that we practice to reach effortless attention, which is Dhyana. 

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