|Dharana or concentration is the sixth limb of yoga and probably the most challenging for many. However, once we have understood the limbs of yoga that have led up to dharana we start to see a pattern emerge.
Through the yamas and niyamas we create a discipline of how we treat ourselves and others. Through pranayama we learn to control the breath to affect our internal well being. With asanas, we build strong and flexible bodies to provide a good home for our mind and spirit. And from there we begin to evolve into the higher limbs that discipline and still the mind. Pratyhara brings stillness with the practice of sensory withdrawal. Through these five limbs, we are now prepared to begin the practice of concentration.
Dharana is also my biggest challenge. I often like to tell those that feel overwhelmed by the thought of taming the "monkey mind" that my challenge was not a monkey, but a whole troop of baboons. And keeping the tree of my mind clear of baboons will continue to be my life long challenge. The good news that I have to report is that, when I get them chased out of my tree for a bit of time, I am most serene.
So how do we get there? Once we have learned to withdraw from the senses, concentration becomes easier. Concentration can be thought of as the muscle of your mind. And the more we exercise it, the better it becomes. There are many ways to exercise concentration and everyone can evolve the practice that works best for them.
Before beginning your dharana practice, try to find a space that is very low on stimulus. The less we have going on around us, the easier it is to concentrate. Low light and noise, clean and neat are important components of your practice space. Take a comfortable seated position. If you cannot sit without discomfort, lay down. The ultimate goal is to be seated so there is less temptation to sleep, but all in due time.
Objects - Physical objects are a great place to start with dharana practice. The tangible nature gives us something we know and understand. A flower, rock, lighted candle, figurine are great physical objects with which to concentrate on.
2D Objects - Photos, drawings, patterns, abstract pictures, mandalas are more sophisticated in that there is a tendency to interpret them and so the mind makes more of what is actually there. However, we can use that to discipline the mind further by excising the analytic process and only focusing on the pure object.
Internal Objects - Taking our concentration inward is more challenging but takes us to an even greater level of discipline. Perhaps focusing on a body part or most commonly, the breath.
Steady Gaze - Once we have grasped that which is tangible to our concentration exercise practice, it becomes easier to begin work on the intangible. Drishthi or steady gazing is a form of concentration in which the object is of no consequence and is just a place to look and there is no connection.
As we step into the practice of dharana, we may find the mind wandering away from our object of concentration and indeed we are experience the very reason for the practice. Just keep bringing it back to the object. If we are gazing at a candle flame, we can perhaps analyze it to death until we are just experiencing the flame and nothing else. It is at that moment we are achieving the practice of dharana.
Don't be discouraged if at first you find concentration sessions that last only a few seconds. That is the nature of the the "wild" mind. Concentration in everyday life on the things we do results in better outcomes. The more you practice, the more you tame it and then you begin the real journey to bliss!