Hold Steady – Working with Dharana – Exploring 8 Limbs of Yoga

Working with Dharana

Working with Dharana is part of a developing series for Be Here Now Network, exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and the ways in which we can deepen our yoga practice by taking its teachings off the mat, and into our daily grind.

“True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness. Yoga is about how the Will, working with intelligence and the self-reflexive consciousness, can free us from the inevitability of the wavering mind and outwardly directed senses.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar Light on Life

In the last segment in this series on the 8 limbs of Yoga, we looked into Pratyahara, and how it is like a point of limbo within the 8 limbs. You either take on the commitment to really go inward with an understanding of freedom and truth existing within, or you… kind of don’t, instead maybe keeping this in and out habit with your practice of want to really find your path, but also being terrified of it…

Discovering an understanding of who you truly are can call for radical changes in your life- changes sometimes easier said than done. However, if you listen inwardly, listen in such a way that you let it guide you as Pratyahara encourages, you’ll come to meet Dharana.

It’s easy for Dharana to get hastily explained as simply concentration, focus, or paying attention, but this really doesn’t do it justice. This kind of keeps it within an intellectual mindset, rather than taking into account the whole body, mind, soul, heart, everything, all the planes of consciousness, that can start to open when you delve into your yoga practice. Explaining it as concentration seems to be the easiest way because there don’t really seem to be words, in our culture at least, that do it justice. Also, there is a strong relationship between concentration and control within our culture as westerners that just really isn’t what it’s about. Just wanted to clarify that before moving on… it’s concentration, kind of.

I think the best way to explain Dharana has come from B.K.S. Iyengar, and the way in which he explains it in terms of how an asana practice feels- mentally and physically. When in a pose, there are these kind of complicated, micro movements taking place within muscle groups and limbs going through external, and internal rotations. Add to this the ways in which our arms and legs are often extended out, internally pulling from back to front. Whether it is these movements or the very small, powerful, root to rise adjustments, there are a lot of opposing actions taking place. There’s just a lot going on in a given pose…. If you’re paying attention.

At the same time this is happening, the mind, like we discussed in early pieces of this series, starts to freak. These opposing actions require balance, proprioception, and, well, often some pain management. Thoughts start to arise making you doubt your every move, the body fights to maintain what is known and comfortable, all while you have to follow your breath. It can feel like edge, on edge, on edge, you are meeting within seconds of stepping into a pose. And the only way you can get through it, is by calming it all.

As well as a kind of concentration, Dharana fosters a sort of calm. This calm, which is actually brought about by the body completely placing focus on the macro task (of the pose) at hand, rather than the micro tasks taking place in both physical and subtle body, creates the concentration Dharana seeks to foster. By following the breath and bringing focus here, as well as to the greater task at hand, rather than the many small waves of thoughts and sensations taking place, there is a release that happens, an unclenching of the mind and body, that is what Dharana is talking about.

The limbs of yoga are not necessarily linear. They inform one another again and again, and as they do the practice deepens. There is a commitment to the practice necessary to get to an understanding of Dharana – to a place where it is held in ways beyond the yoga practice.

What if you were able to take this focus, this release of attention to all the micro anxieties, and apply it to you relationships with others – focusing on the macro of what really matters?

What if Dharana could be applied to self-image in a way that asked who we are and where we are going rather than what we have done wrong?

Much of what we see or do that comes from a place of anxiety or judgment, is informed by this place within us that is stuck seeing others and situations through a lense of minutia, which has so little to do with the bigger picture of who we are, our dharma, and how to love. So, Dharana is about concentration, but even more, it’s about the calm, the clear seeing, the non-judgement that this concentration fosters way inside- helping us keep the mirror nice and polished.

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.
This article was written for Be Here Now Network and is not to be replicated without consent. Photo via Joy Through Yoga and Hold Steady