concentration, one-pointed focus

Fixing the consciousness on one point or region is concentration (dharana)
~ Yoga Sutras, III.1 (translation by BKS Iyengar)

At one point or another, each of us has felt the satisfaction of working on something with complete, effortless focus… whether it was while writing a paper, working in the garden, repairing the car, or doing a yoga pose. Each of us has also felt the frustration of trying to accomplish something when we are not able to focus because our minds were racing with ideas, judgments, worries, songs, or memories…

At the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali describes yoga as “the cessation of fluctuations in the mind.” Without discipline and practice, the mind constantly wanders around, and as it floats about from thought to thought our emotions and energies are pulled along with it. Dharana is the practice of training the mind to concentrate and focus, so that we may avoid such frustration. Concentrating our attention on one point allows the mind to steady itself and calms the ruckus of activity to which we are accustomed. The point of concentration can be in our bodies or outside of ourselves. There are many different ways to incorporate the practice of dharana into the practice of yoga postures.

Traditionally, breathing with awareness (pranayama) is considered the gateway to concentrating with clarity. Practicing pranayama requires us to be aware of something that we are also able to do without conscious awareness. Therefore, it takes great discipline and subtlety to stay focused and not to let the mind drift off (or at least to notice when the mind does drift off!). Maintaining a steady, conscious rhythm of breath during the practice of yoga postures (asana) has many benefits, but it is also a key method for increasing your sense of presence and concentration during the poses. In the beginning, you may find it helpful to silently count the duration of each breath or to count the number of breaths per posture.

In conjunction with the breath, you can also focus on the silent repetition of words. In his book “Light on the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali,” BKS Iyengar says “Dharana may be focused on external or internal objects. External objects should be auspicious and associated with purity.” When using the technique of repeating a word with each breath, or with each inhale and with each exhale, it is important that this word have qualities that reflect the direction you would like to move – in both your yoga practice and in your life. At some times you may be struggling with anger or restlessness or expectation… and so practicing with the qualities of “forgiving,” “steadiness,” or “curiosity” would be ways to balance those struggles. The results and quality of our yoga practice are a direct result of what we are thinking about during the practice. So, aim high!!

During asana practice there are many ways to bring our focus inward. Often an injury can provide us with a wonderful and focused practice because our mind stays attentive to protecting and working within our new limitations. If you do have an injury, keeping the concentration on supporting and exploring it can be a very rewarding and healing way to practice. If you have any areas that frequently ache or are habitually weak/strong/tight… it can also be beneficial to focus on one such area and explore it in each pose throughout class. Notice which poses challenge the area, and which are relaxing for it. Notice which postures address your needs and which postures agitate the problem. Look inside yourself to see if you could do something differently in those agitating postures. It is also rewarding to have a more open-ended sense of inward focus – trying to feel and experience the effects of each pose through the whole body. Rather than using words to describe your sensations, just be and explore how the body affects your body, your emotions, and your thoughts.

Maintaining a steady and focused mind throughout the practice gives consistency and clarity to your yoga experience. Poses which may have seemed random or unrelated are connected and unified through the conviction of your concentration. And when the mind is gradually freed from its racing, random nature, we begin to gain control over our emotions and thoughts. Through this process, we prepare ourselves for the practice of meditation and for the state of yoga.

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Updated January 10, 2005   amey@yogawithamey.com