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.
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.