The seventh limb of yoga, Dhyana, moves deeper into the practice of developing awareness.
Whereas Dharana is the practice of one-pointed meditation, or focus on an object such as mantra or breath, Dhyana is the practice of finding a union with the object- as if you forget that it is anything separate from you. Meditation is no longer something you are doing, rather it is a state of being with what is, as it arises… no separation of self, thought, action.
The limbs of yoga to this point are a mix of skills that challenge you to overcome physical and mental blocks within yourself. Dharana is where all your training to tame the beast of your mind comes into full focus. Dhyana now broadens and softens that pointed focus into an awareness – for all that is coming up and the self’s connection to it.
The internal limbs, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi, are about developing internal abilities to focus, become aware, and release into it. They can’t be practiced by going outward and physically doing something, and are practiced instead though still, calm, and quieting of the body and mind. They build on one another, creating a strong base for deeper self-exploration. When we move into this deeper space, we are going beyond the parameters of the thinking, clinging mind, where things that seem to be outside of us become absorbed. Here we can recognize that “I” and “it” and “you” are all being together.
Dharana is described as concentration through quieting, listening, and focusing on breath or object as means of bringing us deeper into ourselves. As we do this we start to recognize the mental/ physical clutter and chatter within our experiences that arise when we work to strengthen our ability to focus- and calm.
It’s easy to hold judgment on what arises in this process, and in doing so we remove ourselves from it, rather than leaning into it, and melding. We compartmentalize it as other.
Dhyana teaches that there is no other, because categories of object and subject melt away and we are flowing with it all.
Dharana starts the process of what ends with Samadhi, or really Nirvana (mmmm yas please!) while Dhyana is the middle point. It’s practicing being with what is in the present moment. Meet it with no judgment and maintain presence of mind.
After all, if we are apart of everything, it can’t be all bad right? There’s no need for bias in these experiences, however, Tara Brach has some really great articles on how to deal with the nitty gritty we find ourselves unified with… radical self-acceptance, ya’ll.
This experience of melding and finding this state of being may be more accessible than it sounds. Maybe you have a felt sense of it without having yoga experience, through gardening, painting, or knitting. I’ve found that painting and vinyasa are two active processes where I have experienced this melding and flowing, where at a point it is no longer something I am doing, or thinking, but rather the many parts of the process take on a life within and a part of my awareness. My mind relinquishing separation between self and process- Mind, body, and the object (painting/ movement) come together and override my mind’s typical rampage of thoughts. There is nothing to compartmentalize or analyze because I am in a state of being with what is happening.
Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to similar types of experiences as “flow.” There is a loss of selfhood, time, space, where the act taking place is no longer separate from the mind. This, in turn, brings about a deep sense of peace, joy, and satisfaction. Contemplative practices (which can take many forms- asana, meditation, art/music making) usually foster this experience.
However you experience it, it’s a feeling where you can feel your mind uncling and the velcro release – and damn that feels nice.
That nice feel comes within the context of yoga as a life practice. These limbs, and the practice of Dhyana become integral to our relationship to ourselves, others, and the world around us. Think about the Yamas and Niyamas. We are trying to live life woke, but how can that happen if we aren’t aware of our own internal processes? These practices of awakening reveal our connection to one another on a fundamental level. When we can see these connections, and be present for our part within them, we also see that we have choice in how we respond to them. Dhyana, and the benefits of learning how to be with your experiences, learning how to be with what is, directly feeds into learning how to change our perspective. Without awareness, how can we realize our blind spots and areas for growth?
In every interaction, there are reactions, where we have a choice in how to respond. Do you compartmentalize and polarize, or do you stay with it, become it, and offer it some radical acceptance?
It’s real hard, however, all of your Jedi Yogi Powers (siddhis) have lead you to this.
Amanda Hart is currently studying art therapy and clinical mental health counseling in the Graduate School of Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University. She is a 250-hour RYT. Born in the Blue Ridge, and currently transplanting in the Rockies.