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The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Part 6

The sixth limb: dharana

In the yoga philosophy, yogis are encouraged to walk the eightfold path. The eight limbs of yoga, as they are often referred to, act as guidelines for how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These steps can be thought of as a moral and ethical code for conduct and self-discipline. The eight limbs of yoga serve to help the individual connect with one’s health, acknowledge the spiritual world all around, and become grounded in oneself. No one step is more important than another, nor does one step have to come before another. Each step is part of a holistic focus that brings a sense of connectedness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine.dharana

In the previous steps of the eightfold path, we have explored controlling the body (asana), controlling the breath (pranayama), and controlling the senses (pratyahara). All of these steps are guiding us to a place where we can really connect with a greater being and become self-realized. The next step builds off of the asanas, pranayama, and pratyahara. In dharana the goal is to control the mind by removing the distractions. This is not easy to do, but since you’ve already controlled the body, the breathing, and the senses, the mind will be easier than you think.

Dharana is a stepping stone towards meditation. In dharana the goal is to slow down the processes of the mind by settling your attention or focus on one object. The object is not something in the space around you, but instead an image in your mind’s eye. When practicing yoga, the instructor might ask you to find your drishti by setting your gaze on one unmoving object. This allows you to focus your attention, practice your ujjayi breathing, and concentrate on the asana movement. Your drishti is focusing on something real, something concrete. In dharana we want you to find an image in your mind’s eye to focus on. This will allow you to tune out all other visual images and control your mind on that one thing. Your attention is solely on that one object.

Dharana translates to “the immovable concentration of the mind.” Your mind does not wander. It does not lose focus. It is not tempted by the senses. B.K.S. Iyengar states that the goal of dharana is for the mind, intellect, and ego to be “restrained and all these faculties are offered to the Lord for His use and in His service.” By practicing dharana, you are building the bridge between you and the greater being.

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The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Part 5

The fifth limb: pratyahara

In the yoga philosophy, yogis are encouraged to walk the eightfold path. The eight limbs of yoga, as they are often referred to, act as guidelines for how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These steps can be thought of as a moral and ethical code for conduct and self-discipline. The eight limbs of yoga serve to help the individual connect with one’s health, acknowledge the spiritual world all around, and become grounded in oneself. No one step is more important than another, nor does one step have to come before another. Each step is part of a holistic focus that brings a sense of connectedness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine.images

The fifth limb is called pratyahara and it translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” In other words, pratyahara is sense control. Imagine you are walking along a boulevard lined with shops and stores. You pass by a window with great shoes and you think, “I must get those right away,” and you walk inside. Or, you pass by a cupcake shop and you notice a delicious red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting just calling your name and you open the shop door. Or, you are passing a clothing store with the perfect accessory to match the outfit you’ve been building for 3 weeks and you hand over your credit card. These are instances of your senses being in control of your actions. Sometimes we also call this impulse shopping.

The idea that your actions follow your senses is the opposite of pratyahara. In pratyahara, you have control over your senses and therefore your actions are also within your control. To practice pratyahara, you have to make a conscious effort to draw your awareness away from the external stimuli; you are detaching from your senses. When you do this, you are able to direct your attention internally. You can take a step back and look at yourself fully. Doing so allows you to focus on your inner growth as you walk the eightfold path.

Think about a time you practiced meditation. When done properly, the mind is so focused on the object of the meditation that the senses are quiet. The senses are not reacting to external stimuli because they are following the actions of the mind: they are focusing on the meditation. Meditation is a great way to practice pratyahara because it almost happens naturally. Another time pratyahara happens almost instinctually is during a yoga practice. When practicing yoga, your mind is wiped clear and your focus is on the movements and the breath. When your mind is focused on your yoga practice, the external stimuli are quieted and recess to the background. This is when pratyahara steps in and allows you to walk the path of self-realization and inner peace.

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