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yoga philosophy

Ocean Gazing Lessons: Dharana, the Art of Concentration


Last month at The Shala we took an in depth look at Pratyahara, or the withdrawal of the senses. The limbs of yoga are systematic, the limb preceding the next providing you with the tools you need to enable your best shot at tackling the limb to come. As we flip our calendars to September, and we shift our focus to the 6th limb, Dharana, or concentration, we are uniquely prepared to practice single pointed focus, having taken a big step back from external distractions.

So often as New Yorkers we pride ourselves on being able to focus in the form of working very hard but we often ride the stress train to meet our goals.

When we practice Dharana, the goal is to maintain the calm energy that we developed through Pratyahara while still directing our attention to one place. In yoga this focal point is the breath.

The other day I went to the beach and the tropical storm making its way up the east coast had brought these huge, beautiful waves. When I looked down the beach, 90% of the beach goers were sitting up, gazing out at the ocean. Everyone shared a collective, calm focus directed towards the water. We want to find a similar balance of serene focus in our practice.

There is sometimes a misconception of yoga and meditation that its practitioners are spaced out or ‘out to lunch’. In actuality the practices advocate just the opposite and encourage a tuning in rather than a checking out.

So the question is, how do we collect our attention in a concentrated yet peaceful fashion while maintaining a stress-free mind and demeanor?

Yoga is the union of opposites so the effort and action placed towards achieving this pure attention while maintaining a chill mind is the goal itself. Just like a muscle, the skill of concentration is strengthened the more you ask of it. This limb is attained by the continuous intention to return the mind back to its focal point while at the same time keeping an easy mind about it. Just like the buoyancy and consistency of the ocean waves, your mind can find steadiness through the practice of Dharana with calm, steady practice over time.

Practice Dharana with a Breath Based Meditation:

Sit up tall, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. No matter how many times the mind wanders from the breath, bring it back to your breathing in the most loving, kind, gentle way possible. No berating yourself, no guilt, just simply try again and again. The process is the goal and over time this task will become easier. Eventually you will find yourself with not only the ability to focus more acutely but with more energy as your mind is a little less scattered and a little more serene, setting you up nicely for the next limb meditation.