Dharana: The Sixth Limb of Yoga

Too often we get caught up in the busyness of our lives and lose sight of our life’s purpose. The last three limbs of yoga are known as samyama, the pathway to the true light of knowledge. Dharana is the sixth limb of yoga and the essence means “one-pointed attention,” teaching us how to focus our attention on the present moment.

The Power of Focus

During the daytime, light is all around you. The sun lights the sky and you’re able to see far, as light is diffused in various directions. In the dark, more focused light can come from a flashlight but it’s still relatively diffused. Ultra-focused light, as in a laser, can cut through steel. The real strength and power is through complete focus.

Normally, our minds are like diffused light. Thoughts are spread out in many different directions. For most of us, our plates are full. We lead extremely busy lives. In addition, the methods of working today tend to keep us distracted much of the time. How can you expect to be focused when your work requires you to check emails and text messages, post on social media, go to meetings, finish projects, and answer phone calls? And often we’re expected to respond immediately to many of these requests. We then begin to wonder why we’re not attaining our goals and moving toward our life’s purpose.

Attaining your dream goals require laser-pointed focus. That means shooting that beam of light toward one activity only.

To illustrate, I love eagle pose (garudasana) in yoga. Holding that pose, in particular, helps to create focus. The eagle must have one-pointed attention while focusing on its prey. The eagle will scope out the animal it wishes to attain, gaze intently, and then fly perhaps for miles to catch it. If he was having scattered thoughts, talking to his eagle friends, tidying up his nest, or looking for prey, he might never catch anything.

Working Above the Ego

Called Ahankara in Sanskrit, the ego, will get in the way of your focus. Its sense of self-importance will say, “I’ve got to take this call now.” Or “I must text back immediately.”

The ego is the master of distraction. Think of the ego as a two-year-old child striving for attention. The ego will tell you stories like, “I can’t focus; my to-do list is too long.” “My children need me.” Or “The housework must get done.”

Thus is the deception of the ego. Dharana is about being completely focused on the present moment in what you are doing. Have you ever seen parents playing on their phones at the playground completely oblivious of their children? Have you been guilty of that? I know I have.

I have seen people in restaurants on dates, where one person was watching the TV screen and the other was texting on the phone. There was absolutely no sense of being present, nor any real connection.

There is an old adage that says, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” In a sense, we have become master multi-taskers, but in the end we can’t become master of any one thing without focus.

My guru, Dr. David Simon, used to say, “Imagine what your calendar will be like the day after you die.” What he meant was no one is too important of a person to not take the time to focus on one thing, one person, or living in the present moment. The ego would just like us to think that it is so.

4 Tools to Practice Dharana

To help you focus on one thing at a time, try one of these effective practices:

1. Mantra practices. A mantra-based meditation practice is optimal to create focus. Ideally, the practitioner repeats a mantra or a set of sounds with no meaning in that person’s target language. Primordial Sound Meditation is a perfect example of a mantra practice used to hold the mind still and help detach from the classic monkey mind.

2. Visual mantra meditations. Visual meditations, such as focusing on a single candle flame, can enhance your practice of single-pointed awareness. When the room is dark, you can focus on the flickering light and train the mind to filter out everything else.

Another form of visual meditation is using a yantra or visual mantra. Mandalas are art forms of geometric shapes, which you can use for your visual meditation.

3. Visualization. Visualization is a great skill for manifesting desires. The reason why most people have difficulty manifesting the objects of their desire is that they are looking at the obstacles in front of them rather than having a clear, focused picture of the outcome. Again, the logical mind and the ego want to interfere with the process of manifesting.

Visualize daily your desired outcome. Keeping a vision board is a concrete way of having pictures in front of you, at all times, to remind you that perceived obstacles are mere distractions.

4. Turn off your phone and other devices, and set a timer. Don’t be afraid to set limits for yourself. Living in the present moment with one-pointed attention is a form of meditation. It’s a gift that allows you to increase pleasure, raise self-confidence, and enhance creativity. People can wait. Phone calls and text messages can be returned later. Set a timer and focus on one activity. And if it’s time with a precious loved one, make an agreement to minimize all distractions to focus uniquely on one other.

With practice, you will find life becomes more enjoyable and you will be able to go about your daily activities with a greater sense of peace.


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