Dharana means focusing attention on a particular external or internal point. For example, it may be an internal point, as any of the main chakras, part of the body like the heart, the navel, the tip of the nose, mantra, or viewing an image. It can also be external such as an image with a symbolic or a spiritual sense for the practitioner, for example, an image of Buddha, a Ganesha, a mandala, or simply a candle or a flower.
What happens at this point is extremely interesting. Swami Sivananda explains it that in dharana, there is a single wave in the mind, vritti, or mental changes, if we visualize as a lake. This image of the mind as a lake is frequently used within the yogi literature. Then the mind takes the form of a single object and all other functions of the mind are suspended momentarily. When the mind is calm, we identify with our essence. This is when we give way to meditation, arguably, it is the central practice of yoga. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are all aspects of meditation in yoga.
There are modifications of the positive and negative mind as yoga teacher explain. The negative bring suffering. Those who come from tamas or rajas, the energies are negative and positive mental yoga must seek modifications, which have Sathwic qualities of purity and brightness. When we are not connected with our essence, we identify with our thoughts and various modifications of the mind. We cannot see our truth. But ‘control of mental changes, and when the mind is acute, it becomes crystal clear.
The concentration goes above the components of recollection of the senses. One cannot happen without the other as they are interdependent. Once we have controlled prana through pranayama and senses through pratyahara, we mind to something specific. While pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses, leads the attention of the outer, thick and material sphere, the concentration (dharana) can steer towards any object or selected area.
Once there is enough deep stillness into the body and mind, a fixation of unprecedented attention occurs. A stable observation of body posture and control of vital energy through breathing make us concentrate. When we look, we realize the implicit distraction in the states of everyday consciousness, being aware that it is the first step to correct it.
When we talk about abhyasa, the qualities that must have asanas Patanjali describes the role for Raja Yoga. Abhyasa can be translated as effort, practice or method. This effort whose ultimate goal is the lack of effort. When we talk about concentration, abhyasa manifests itself as ‘the effort, both to focus and to return distraction while we will not act (vairagya) and it is the mechanism through which the tendency to distraction dims.’
Concentration in yoga is a powerful practice that gives us mental clarity and inner serenity. It also gives joy, health and efficiency in our lives. It connects us to our true nature and the truth of the infinite.
Breathing is harmony, energy and life and if it is partial or incorrect, it has great psychological, emotional, mental and physical implications. Most of us do not have a full breath and experience accumulated tension in the shoulders, neck, spine collapse and restrict lung expansion. We breathe superficially, often agitated, leaving fully inhale and exhale deeply. Fatigue, anxiety, poor health and discouragement may originate due to poor breathing.
These exercises make us aware of how we breathe, the patterns we have acquired over the years which we must change. They also help us attune with valuable physical, mental and spiritual tool we have in our breath. Thus, we clean, we heal and we are filled with energy, clarity and health with each inhalation and each exhalation.
To begin with, become aware of your breathing. Lie on your back on the floor with your knees bent, on a yoga mat, wearing comfortable clothes which allow you to move. Put one hand on your lower abdomen below the navel and one below the ribs. Close your eyes. Inhales and exhales long and deep, always breathing through the nose.
As you inhale, feel what body part is expanded first. Look what happens to the abdomen and chest. See if you can identify some tension in the abdomen, shoulders, or throat and try to release.
Try to emphasize the abdominal breathing, so that with each breath your abdomen rises due to the pressure exerted by the diaphragm on the abdominal cavity and see how your hand is raised with it. As you exhale, the diaphragm relaxes, and your hand should go down to your abdomen.
Breathe deeply through your nose, inflating the abdomen like a balloon, and try to engage the shoulders as little as possible, because they do not represent an efficient breathing. Try to isolate the three parts, starting with the abdomen, the middle part and upper chest.
Now concentrate on the way you breathe. Inhale slowly and deeply, reaching the full capacity of your lungs. Hold the breath briefly and then exhale to empty in a controlled manner. Give exhalation the same importance as inhalation and feel a consolidation in the torso when exhaling.
In the same position, bring your hands to the sides. One way to do this is folding arms across chest and put hands under the armpits. Do you feel how your ribs expand and contract with each breath? After exploring this way, you find breathing expands the abdomen first, then the ribs and finally the chest. When you correctly breathe, you will sure do well practicing yoga in your class.