Dhyana is the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga. It is most commonly translated as “meditation.” However, it is useful to notice that dhyana follows the sixth of the eight limbs – dharana, or concentration. In the Yoga Sutras, the author Patanjali defines meditation as a sustained, uninterrupted flow of concentration. A common metaphor is that of pouring water and pouring oil. When we pour water, the water breaks into droplets as it falls. This is like the state of dharana, concentration. When we pour oil, the stream is steady and unbroken. This is the state of dhyana, sustained concentration.

A state of meditation feels like a gift when it occurs, and is not something that we can call up on command. But we can develop and practice our ability to focus the mind, thus sowing the seeds for meditation. Most of us first come to yoga through the asanas (yoga postures), which is actually a wonderful way to hone our ability to focus. Learning to observe the body during the poses gradually teaches us to loosen our attachment to the body and its immediate sensations; it becomes a vessel that we observe and maintain. Practicing concentration and meditation does the same thing for our thoughts; we are able to soften our response to emotions and constant mental activity.

When practicing yoga with the goal of improving one’s concentration, it is necessary to fix your mind on one thing and try to keep it there. A fixed point of focus allows the mind to rest, and provides some discipline for the chatty, restless part of the mind. During asana practice, this object of focus could be the breath, some part of the body that needs attention (either from injury, over-use, or under-use), or even the silent verbal repetition of some quality you would like to foster in yourself. In his book “The Heart of Yoga,” TKV Desikachar writes “…whatever you choose as your object of meditation, your understanding of this will grow.”

He also states “…we can meditate on anything we like. But we should never lose sight of the fact that in choosing our meditation object, we must find one that is pleasing and calming to us.” Recalling the metaphor of pouring oil and water, it is further explained that a liquid takes the shape of the vessel into which it is poured. In the same way, the mind takes the “shape” of the object of concentration that we choose. For this reason it is especially important to select a point of focus that is rewarding and pleasing.

To meditate at home, you will want a quiet space where you will not be interrupted, an alarm clock of some sort, and a comfortable seat. If sitting on the ground, you can use a pillow or folded blanket for some added support and ease on the body. You can also sit upright in a chair if that is more comfortable for you. Either way, you should be able to sit up tall and easily. Set the alarm clock for 5, 10, or 20 minutes… this way a specific goal is set and the mind is free from the concern of how much time has passed. It is better to start with just a few minutes and gradually work toward longer sessions.

Close your eyes and be sure that you are comfortable. If you feel any discomfort in your position now, it will only be amplified during your time in meditation. Ideally, once a position is chosen and settled into, a practitioner does not move the body during the meditation. The idea is to watch the mind, and moving only allows for continuing distractions. Allow the space between your eyes to soften and relax. Allow the breath to move through you, rather than breathing in an active manner.

There are many different methods of meditation, coming from various lineages and practices. Some methods/objects of concentration used in meditation are: observing the effects of the breath at one point in the body (the nose, diaphragm, chest…), listening attentively and passively to the sounds around you, softly gazing at a candle, fixing one’s awareness on a distinct area of the body and the sensations therein, perceiving the sensation throughout the whole body at once, or the repetition of a word or phrase with each breath. Experiment with these different techniques, perhaps trying one technique for a whole week before trying another. That way you will learn what each method has to offer and when it may be the most beneficial method for you.

Meditation is a state of listening inwardly, drawing all one’s senses inward to perceive oneself accurately and truthfully. Ultimately, the goal of this practice is to establish the ability to simply experience yourself for who you are in this moment; to be alert and aware without strain or force.

Any inquiry of interest can calm the mind. (Yoga Sutra 1.39)

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Updated January 10, 2005   amey@yogawithamey.com