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How Dharana Can Bring More Focus to Your Yoga Practice and Your Life

Yoga | Yoga for Beginners

“Ok yogis, in one word, describe what makes you happy and write it down on the little piece of paper in front of your mat,” our chipper teacher asked at the beginning of class. ”Huh?” My initial reaction was that I’m already happy and I know it. And I don’t need to clap my hands, thank you very much.

But as a yoga teacher, my curiosity won out over my natural cynicism and I did what he asked. Chose a word, jotted it down, and slid it under the upper edge of my mat. Here goes nothing…

But after opening Ohms and a refresher course in the significance of dharana—the sixth limb of Patanjali’s Eight-Limb Yoga path—I flowed through one of the most powerful spiritual yoga practices of my life.

And that was indeed something. Because I’ve studied, practiced, read, practiced some more, taught, chanted, and woven yoga into the core of my life for decades now. But one area of the practice has, time and again, shoved me into a pothole: dharana.

Clearing the Clutter in the Mind

Frequently referred to as ‘collection or concentration of the mind,’ dharana is a practice of binding one’s mind to single point—be it an object, place, or idea. The more specific that object, place, or idea, the more effective.

Why bother with this? Because it can make all the difference in your yoga practice and your life. Here’s how taking on the challenge of dharana is enhancing mine.

1. I’m getting it the first time around.

On a recent visit home, my mom dug out an old folder of report cards dating back to my elementary school years. While my grades were mostly above average, down in the remarks sections I noticed a common theme: she is easily distracted; she struggles to concentrate; she doesn’t pay attention.

Ouch. But yoga is all about possibility, yes? So now, well into the back side of my forties, I’m working to set my attention on One. Thing. At. A. Time.

Whether it’s zeroing in on one student’s foot placement in a room full of yogis and cuing to that, or listening to my husband’s extrapolation of a complicated business transaction without allowing my mind to wander off to what’s for dinner, I’m starting to get it the first time around.

And that’s without having to ask anyone to repeat themselves.

2. I’m learning how to forge a clear path toward what makes me happiest.

Back to that ‘happy’ exercise before practice: my little piece of paper at the top of my mat had several words—some scribbled out, some reinstated—blatant evidence of a yogi struggling to concentrate on a single person, place, or thing that made her happy.

Wow. Eventually I settled on a single word (no, I’m not sharing because you get to discover your own happy word!), and once I did, I focused on that word at various times throughout the flow. Concentrating solely on that one word gave me deeper insight on how to get more of it.

What steps do I need to take to get closer to it? What poor habits are standing in my way? What physical sensations, thoughts, or emotions arise when I concentrate on one single person, place, or thing that makes me happy?

This kind of work is helping me make informed decisions on what I need to do to get there.

3. I’m all in.

I’ve practiced long enough to master the act of looking like I’m ‘all in’—solid physical alignment, audible Ujjayi breath, eyes fixed on a single point—while being totally somewhere else. And what good does that do?

We come to yoga to go inward, to discover what’s happening deep down. Otherwise it’s just another workout. Incorporating dharana into my practice has peeled back a deeper layer to unveil the truth of what’s going on in my life, both on and off the mat.

Concentrating on the word ‘strength’ in a class last week, for example, inspired me to withstand the shaking in my front thigh a little longer in Warrior II, and revealed the many escape tactics I’d used in the past.

Concentrating on ‘love’ while flying across the country redirected frustrations associated with travel toward the rewards of spending time with those waiting for me at the other end—my precious family.

4. My projects are no longer turning into gutter balls.

So often I’d get inspired to start something, only to get distracted by another grander idea that pulled me off-task. Concentrating on a single area of focus in my teaching, for example, has kept me on track.

For one month, I concentrated solely on using specific, point-to-point cues (“Reach your right arm to the ceiling, ground your back heel into the mat”) instead of getting sidetracked by all the other areas I’d like to grow as a teacher (giving stronger assists, incorporating more philosophy, etc).

Too much at once gets overwhelming—leading to an exasperating hands-in-the-air, why bother type of resignation.

So try dharana for yourself. Next time you hit the mat, concentrate on a single object, place, or idea, and enjoy the ride!

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