Dharana Explained: The Sixth Limb of the Yoga Sutras and the Second Step Toward Meditation

Hannah Leatherbury
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What does it look like to be totally focused during your yoga practice? Introducing the second step toward meditation: one-pointed concentration. This is called Dharana in the Yoga Sutras.

Dharana is first mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as part of the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga. Dharana is the sixth limb of the Yoga Sutras.

Have you read about the fifth limb of the Yoga Sutras? Before you continue, you might want to check out: Pratyahara Explained: The Fifth Limb of the Yoga Sutras and the First Step Toward Meditation
 
 

What Is Dharana and How Do You Practice It?

One translation of the Yoga Sutras (Yoga Sutras 3.1 as translated by T.K.V. Desikachar) describes Dharana as follows:

“The mind has reached the ability to be directed [Dharana] when direction toward a chosen object is possible in spite of many other potential objects within the reach of the individual.”

During a standard yoga class, you will often find a teacher emphasize enduring focus on your breath and/or detailed alignment in each posture. As a practitioner, you are being directed not only to shift your body in space, but to bring your mind into sharp focus.
 

 
 
In asana practice, your body becomes the chosen object of your focus and you set the stage for Dharana: one-pointed concentration.

Whether you set your focus on the shape of the pose or the energy of your breath within the flow of postures is inconsequential.
 
The key idea is: choose a method that best helps you focus your attention.
 
 

What Are Common Obstacles to Finding Dharana?

There are some common distractions to contend with in a typical yoga class:

  • Comparing yourself to others in the room
  • Comparing your previous practice to your current practice
  • Allowing your mind to wander during the practice

 

Obstacle #1: Comparing Yourself to Others

It’s natural to look around in yoga class and observe the people around you. But all too often, we fixate. We envy another person’s posture or become critical of the yogi on the neighboring mat.
 

Obstacle #2: Observing Your “Progress” or “Regress”

Comparatively, we might have an inner monologue during class that convinces us that we are “good at this” and “getting better” or “bad at this” and “getting worse.” These monologues take us away from our focus on breath and posture.
 

Obstacle #3: Allowing Your Mind to Wander

Mentally “checking out” is another natural tendency during yoga class. Our minds might still be digesting yesterday’s argument with a loved one and strategizing our response. Or they may be daydreaming about the next opportunity for a vacation.
 

 
 

How Can You Align With the Principles of Dharana to Move Closer Toward Meditation?

But, there is a silver lining. These moments provide opportunities to practice turning our attention back to our chosen point of focus.

While your teacher’s alignment and breath cues can pull you back into your practice, perhaps more impactful is your ability to notice and intercept these “comparing” moments when they happen.

Just because your mind “goes there,” does not mean it has to stay there.

Nothing is wrong with having a mind that behaves in this way, but the Yoga Sutras maintain that our minds can be trained. In yoga class, this training guides us toward a clear, calm, focus on our posture or our breath.
 

Your teacher is within you.

 
Again, here, your teacher’s cues can be invaluable because they can guide your mind back to the practice. However, your teacher is also within you.

The more you notice your mind wandering and kindly choose to shepherd it back to the posture or breath at hand, the more you align with the principle of Dharana.
 
 

The Takeaway on Dharana and How It Influences Your Meditation Practice

With eight limbs described in the Yoga Sutras, practicing the sixth limb of yoga (Dharana) brings you closer to both the seventh and eighth limbs: meditation (Dhyana) and blissful union (Samadhi).

Each time you refocus on your breath and your alignment during yoga class, your yoga experience deepens and expands.

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Hannah Leatherbury

​Yoga found Hannah in the midst of an existential crisis fifteen years ago. She now teaches in the metro-DC area. Her recorded meditations are freely available on her audio blog and through the Insight Timer app.

HannahLeatherbury.com

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