Lesson 18 - Dharana

In the Lesson 17 you learnt about Pratyahara i.e. controlling sense organs from tasting their respective senses. With the help of Pratyahara you stop the outward run of the sense organs. What next? Start the inward journey. The next three stages of Ashtanga Yoga are Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. They all represent progressive stages of the same process. To begin with this lesson introduces you with Dharana.

The word Dharana refers to binding your mind onto some object. This object can be external or internal. Often Dharana is translated as concentration. Though in general sense we can call it as concentration there is a difference. Concentration is a process by which your mind becomes one pointed. It remains focused on the object of concentration. Concentration need not be a pleasurable experience. Let me give you an example. Suppose that you have gone for rock climbing. You are enjoying the thrill in the new experience. Suddenly you slip down while climbing up. A cold wave of fear rushes through your body and spontaneously you cling to a steep edge of a rock. Your fingers are paining. To survive you must hold the steep edge with full focus and concentration. Even a slight mistake can cost you your life. Till some help arrives you stick to your position with utmost concentration. Now, this is no doubt an example of great concentration. But is this concentration giving you any joy or pleasure? Certainly not. So to summarize concentration need not be always joyous. On the other hand Yogic Dharana will give you joy and happiness. You will never feel tensed or stressed (as in the above example) after the act of Dharana.

Dharana is a process in which you focus your awareness on some external and internal object. You continuously try to glue your mind to the object of Dharana. Mind moves with a speed of light. You need to bring it to the object of concentration time and again. Thus Dharana is a stage wherein you are sincerely "trying" to unite with the object of concentration. You might be wondering as to how this process of focusing brings joy and happiness. You need to understand here that happiness and sorrow are nothing but states of mind. When you are unhappy your mind is filled with bitter feelings. How would you remove this unhappiness? By cleansing the debris of bitter feelings. How to remove this debris? By replacing them with something else. That's what exactly happens in Dharana.

When we come in contact with an object, our sense organs sense it and convey its impressions to the mind. Mind then takes those signals to the brain and we perceive the object. In other words our mind "creates" a subtle replica of the object and sends it to the brain. Thus mind is occupied with the impressions of the newly sensed object. In Dharana the same thing happens. Your mind keeps generating impressions of the object being focused again and again. In the process mind flushes other impressions. Thus your mind is cleansed and bitter (and also happy) feelings are washed temporarily. That is why when you come out of Dharana you feel very fresh. Your mind is recharged to face the world again. During initial stages this time span of joy might be very small and you may find that worries start accumulating again. But after a continuous and sincere practice this time window can be expanded to a great length.

As with Pratyahara, there are many techniques for Dharana. I am going to discuss the following three techniques:

  • Dharana on a symbol
  • Chidakash Dharana
  • Heart Center Dharana

 Dharana on a symbol

In this technique you focus your awareness on some symbol. The symbol chosen for Dharana can be religious one such as an Idol of a deity or cross or it can be a general symbol such as a beautiful flower. Some people criticize Idol worship. They say that an idol made up of clay, stone or metal simply cannot contain God and hence it is useless to worship it. However, such people don't understand the real principal behind Idol worship. Let me give you a small example. Let's say your wife (or husband) has gone out of station and you cannot accompany her because of your work pressure. After few days you start missing her. You feel lonely and bored. You then take out your family album and looking at her photo start recollecting happy moments spent with her. You may not agree with me but this is a kind of Idol worship! Your wife is certainly not  in those photos but looking at the photos you can feel her presence. Similarly though an idol doesn't contain God in itself it can act as a means to help you bind your awareness on the supreme reality. Idols and symbols can bring you wonderful results if used appropriately.

The technique to perform Dharana on a symbol is as follows:

  • Keep the symbol of Dharana on a small stool, chair or table around 3 feet from your seat
  • Make sure that the symbol is in line with your eyes
  • Sit in any meditative position
  • Close your eyes and practice Ajapa Japa for a few minutes (as explained in the previous lesson)
  • Now slowly open your eyes and look at the symbol for some time
  • Now close the eyes and try to visualize the same symbol in front of your eyes
  • Try to see it mentally and try to see its all details
  • Try to feel its presence in your mind
  • Let your mind be aware only about the symbol
  • Try not to get distracted by external sounds and events
  • After the visualization starts fading open your eyes and spend some time to look at the symbol again
  • Now close the eyes and repeat the process again

You will find that as your practice matures the visualization stays for longer times. A stage will be reached when you will be able to recreate the symbol in front of your eyes without looking at it at all!

Chidakasha Dharana

Chidakasha refers to the space in front of throat to head when you close the eyes. The technique to perform Chidakash Dharana is as follows:

  • Sit in any meditative position
  • Practice breath awareness as in Ajapa Japa for a few minutes
  • Now slowly close your eyes
  • As you close the eyes feel the space between throat to head region
  • Try to see its depth, intensity as well as subtleness
  • Keep your attention fixed in this space for as much time as possible

This is a bit difficult technique at first. Your mind will refuse to bind itself to space. Mind has been taught to enjoy material objects for years and hence it will take some time to go in this Dharana. If you wish you can visualize some symbol in the Chidakasha to allow your mind to fix upon easily. In advanced stages you may feel that color of the Chidakasha is changing (yellow, dark blue, black etc.) but don't bother about it if it doesn't happen. Let it happen at its own pace.

Heart Center Dharana

Heart center Dharana is a wonderful practice and quickly brings a feeling of joy or bliss. The technique to perform this Dharana is as follows:

  • Sit in any meditative posture
  • Practice breath awareness as in Ajapa Japa for a few minutes
  • Close the eyes
  • Visualize a bright blue colored flower or lotus in the region of heart
  • Remember that you are supposed to visualize it "inside" the heart region and not in the space in front of the heart region
  • As you inhale imagine that because of the breath the flower is shining bright and feel as if you are storing joy, happiness, bliss in its center
  • As you exhale feel all the unhappiness and bitterness washing away
  • Feel that because of gentle blows of your respiration the petals are vibrating spreading a feeling of joy
  • Keep practicing this way as much as possible
  • Slowly come out of Dharana

Note that the above "lotus" is not the same as "Anahata Chakra" of Kundalini Yoga which is situated on the spinal column.

Dharana forms a stepping stone for Dhyana and Samadhi. Dharana teaches you to bind your mind onto some object resulting into reduced mental fluctuations. In Dharana the mind has a tendency to wander away and you need to bind it to the object concentrated upon time and again. When such wandering stops Dhyana results. Dhyana is the topic of our next lesson.

May the peace be with you.

Bipin Joshi is an independent software consultant and trainer by profession specializing in Microsoft web development technologies. Having embraced the Yoga way of life he is also a yoga mentor, meditation teacher, and spiritual guide to his students. He is a prolific author and writes regularly about software development and yoga on his websites. He is programming, meditating, writing, and teaching for over 27 years. To read more about him go here. More details about his Kriya and Meditation online course are available here.

Posted On : 20 April 2007

Tags : Yoga Patanjali Raja Yoga Ashtanga Yoga Meditation Courses