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Dharana - Concentration

The last three limbs of yoga - Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (bliss) - altogether are called Samyama. Sam means, "binding, together, integrated," and Yama, as you might remember from earlier limbs means, "restraint." The idea of Samyama being that we aim to seamlessly flow through the last three limbs of yoga as we go deeper and deeper inward. Let's dive into Dharana right now!

Has a yoga teacher ever invited you to think of an intention for your asana practice? Maybe suggesting the intention of staying in the present moment or getting grounded. This is actually really similar to the practice of Dharana!

Dha meaning "holding"

Ana meaning "other" or "something else"

Altogether, Dharana is generally translated to mean concentration. This is the first step in the meditative practice according to Patanjali and, in my opinion, really shifts into the most subtle and inward focused aspects of yoga practice.

Dharana involves training the mind to focus on an object, such as the breath or a mantra, and to hold that focus for an extended period of time - just like setting an intention for an asana class!

This practice is meant to develop mental clarity and stability, to achieve self-realization, and is a precursor to deeper states of meditation.

Let's talk about integrating this practice.

Think back to our last email. We talked about Pratyahara or "withdrawal of the senses." In that email, I encouraged you all to take time in meditation to watch your sensory experience by noticing what you heard, saw, smelled, etc.

This week, we're going to go a little deeper. Dharana encourages the mind to focus on one singular thing at a time. It can be something outside of our being or an internal focus point.

Try this: Find a comfortable place to sit and watch the inhales and the exhales. Try not to change them and try to stay there with the breath. When you feel your concentration pull away from the breath, gently guide yourself back.

Now, this is just one way to try out your Dharana practice. Here are a few other ideas:

• Keep the eyes open during meditation and focus the eyes on a fixed point like a candle flame.

• Find a visualization meditation that guides you through beautiful imagery like this one! Jason Stephenson does all of my favorite guided sleep meditations, too!

• Measure your breath by your footsteps - this is from Thich Naht Hahn's book The Miracle of Mindfulness. He says to find a beautiful, peaceful place to walk and count the length of breath with your steps. At first, keep the breath natural. Then, begin to lengthen the inhales and exhales, as well as the number of paces you take per round of breath. This should be a slow, intentional walk.

• Wash your dishes focusing on each individual dish noticing and contemplating each curve, each color, each texture as you wash them.

As we practice Dharana more and more, we are able to calm the mind faster and with less effort. Sri Swami Satchidananda says, "This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, your bringing it back; it's running, your bringing it back." Mastery over the fluctuations of the mind IS yoga and it takes both effort and surrender, as well as practiced concentration. After this, we do a deep dive into Dhyana, meditation, for FOUR WEEKS! Offer yourself grace as you incorporate this into your practice. These are not easy things to do! Many people spend their entire lives devoted to contemplation and still are challenged. You're doing great! As always, I am here for you and our inbox is always open! Kiara Flowers

REFERENCES: Living the Sutras by Kelly DiNardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Edwin Bryant The Yogi Assignment by Kino MacGregor The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi Yoga Toolbox - Joseph and Lilian LePage

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