Dharana, or fixing the mind to a place, is the sixth stage of ashtanga yoga. “While pratyahara was about withdrawing the senses from the irrelevant things and disengaging yourself from strong addictions, dharana talks about focus to achieve deeper levels of awareness,” says yoga expert Rajendra Yenkannamoole, founder of Vasudeva Kriya Yoga, Melbourne.
After honing the ability to ignore external distractions, one can progress to the practice of dharana, he says. “In dharana, the practitioner focuses on a single point or object, such as the breath, a mantra, activity or visualisation, to calm the mind and achieve more profound levels of awareness,” says Acharya Param, yoga mentor, Tri-fold Yoga, Delhi.
Experts say this practice calms the mind, improves mental clarity, and develops the ability to concentrate, which lays the foundation for deeper meditation practices or dhyana.
Read more about the introduction to ashtanga yoga here
Read more about Yama and Niyama
Read more about Asana
Read more about Pranayama
Read more about Pratyahara
Dharana – the steady focus
Dharana means steady focus or concentration. During the practice of dharana, the mind is anchored to a specific point, concept, or object, thus fixing an individual’s full attention on one place, thing, or idea at a time.
The objective of Dharana is to develop a single-pointed awareness, wherein one withdraws their attention from all objects, internal or external. “Everyone’s object of meditation is different. Choose what is relevant to you,” says Yenkannamoole.
Mastering concentration and focus
According to Yenkannamoole, dharana prepares one for dhyana or meditation. In the beginning, focusing on one object or thing for too long is difficult; therefore, a beginner can start concentrating only for a few minutes and later increase the duration.
Learning a skill takes practise, whether it is dancing, writing, or concentration. One needs regular practise for a long time before being able to move from one level to another. Gradually, durations of multi-tasking of the mind reduces, and one begins to have a focused and unified mind, adds Yenkannamoole.
Concentration versus meditation
“Some of us may mistake dharana for dhyana, as the general perception is that anyone sitting with crossed legs and eyes closed is seen as meditating,” says Yenkannamoole. However, there is a big difference between the two states. In dharana, our mind holds on to a spot with effort.
It is like moving one’s mind in a narrow lane. The moment the effort is reduced, the mind keeps holding onto the spot and one slips into dhyana or meditation. In this state, one’s mind becomes a stream of uninterrupted attention, effortlessly connecting one with the object. Hence, dhyana begins where dharana ends.
Reaping the rewards
Acharya Param says, the practice of dharana, even if one does not reach the state of dhyana or meditation, comes with many rewards. Focusing can improve the quality and quantity of one’s activities. When we have a stronger hold on dharana, we become immersed in our actions and are less likely to leave tasks unfinished. This practice allows us to make decisions quickly and carry out tasks more effectively.
Study finds dharana boosts selective attention skills
In a selective review, the effects of ashtanga yoga’s dharana and dhyana were separately assessed on performance in a standard task for attention. It was found that dharana improved ability in selective attention, visual scanning, and the capacity to perform a repetitive motor task.
Although dharana is considered a preparatory stage for dhyana, it does not need to be limited to meditation sessions. One can incorporate concentration practice into their daily lives whenever and wherever they can, says Acharya Param.
Focus like a pro in your yoga practice
To incorporate dharana into your yoga practice, concentrate on one aspect at a time, such as your breath. “Practise dharana with opened eyes by keeping awareness of anything near or remote. After some time, continue the same with your eyes closed. This helps to develop focus and concentration,” says Acharya Param.
Dharana in everyday life
To incorporate dharana into your daily routine, concentrate on one task at a time. Set a timer for each task and stay focused for that duration. For instance, when washing clothes, working, reading a book, eating, or spending time with family, put away your phone, turn off the television, and give your full attention to that one activity.
Ideally, one should aim to maintain a state of dharana throughout the day, focusing solely on the task. However, begin by enjoying small moments of focused attention every day.