In my previous blog post, I reviewed pratyhara, which is the withdrawal from distractions. If one consistently struggles with pratyhara, then dharana will difficult to practice. In order for dharana to occur, concentration, we have to be able to not be distracted by internal thoughts or external noises, temperature, or visual stimuli.
While in an asana class, we are asked to hold a posture. The sensations in the physical body become our focus. We can observe the gymnastics of the mind that arise due to our preferences for the pose, the temperature in the room, our judgments of the teacher, our thoughts on our own performance or that of the person next to us in a detached manner. The more we develop the ability to concentrate on our breath and physical body, the more that the mind quiets. This means it doesn’t bring our attention to every noise or movement.
The release of a pose allows prana to flood the body. When we practice dharana, we can follow that flow and then heed the intelligence of the body. It may not be immediate on the mat, but if we are able to tune into prana, then we can more easily be guided by the urges of the body. This leads to bringing the mind into greater harmony with the body.
So, if we begin with pratyhara, the withdrawal, not the removal of, distractions, that allows for dharana to happen. It really is an exercise in training the mind when we choose what stimuli will receive our attention. For instance, this blog post instead of the conversation at the next table in the cafe. Once I can allow that conversation to be and place my attention on my computer screen, then dharana can happen. I can follow the words that come to me and put them in this post in a way that, hopefully, makes sense to you, the reader. And I can practice pratyhara and dharana while doing anything, or while doing nothing.
Remember that part of the mind’s job is to alert us to stimuli that comes in through the senses. It wants us to stay alive, and in order for that to happen, we need to be aware of all the sights and sounds and smells that could be dangerous to us. It is up to us to decide which stimuli we will give our attention to and which we will not allow to distract us. Immediately after that, we can concentrate, which means all of our focus and energy is placed upon one thing, one direction. Like so many other practices, not just in yoga but in life, the more we do this, the easier it becomes.
Do you have a suggestion for withdrawing the senses from stimuli (pratyhara) so that you can concentrate (dharana)? If so, share in the comments below. I have explored dharana in a poem I wrote for my yoga project, Yogis All: A Journey of Transformation, Volume I, which can be viewed on my website: www.myjoyenterprises.com