This is part six of “Following the Eight-Limbed Path”, a series about Ashtanga yoga, read part five here
Concentration is the ability to stay focused and keep that focus in one direction. When I first read about the sixth limb, Dharana, I thought it sounded pretty easy — focus. I thought to myself, “I can do that, no problem”. I must have forgotten how much my mind wanders, how much it ”talks”, and how much it actually distracts me.
The wandering mind
After years of daily asana practice, my mind still sometimes wanders; random things pop into my head. It can be conversations I have had recently, people that have affected me, or things I have to do. “Did I forget to email that text?” or “ I have to remember to write to my grandma, it’s been way too long now” or “What I am going to do today?” All of the sudden I find myself lost in the practice because my mind just took me away, and the concentration is gone.
Whenever this happens I just try to direct the concentration towards the breath, and this really helps me stay focused. Dharana is just like pratyahara (the fifth limb), a stage we reach when our minds are ready for it. The concentration lies on a single point or on a task and the mind has to be stilled in order to achieve this state of complete absorption. Asana is a great tool to still our minds, but for most people, this takes years of practice. This is why we always start our yoga practice with asana, then the rest will follow.
The ability to focus efficiently
In Dharana we create the conditions for the mind to focus its attention in one direction instead of racing off in many different directions. We encourage one particular activity of the mind and the more intense it becomes, the more the other activities of the mind fall away. The objective is to steady the mind by focusing its attention upon something specific. The general purpose is to stop the mind from wandering. When the mind has become purified by the physical yoga practice, it becomes able to focus efficiently on one subject or point of experience. This is a great potential for inner healing.
My mind is definitely wandering less nowadays but still I have a long way to go. Especially when I am practicing on my own, for some reason when I have company it seems easier. Somedays are just harder than others though and it sure feels like a process. When my mind start to babble too much I try to ignore it. I turn inwards and direct my focus on the breath. Depending on the day, once might be enough, but some days, I have to do it a few times during my practice.
Allowing, observing, and letting go
Just being aware of the how the mind works and how I can control it was a huge step for me in my personal growth. Realizing that I am not my thoughts, my feelings, or my mind has helped me a lot. I am just the person observing, with the power to let things pass and not let them distract me. If you take away my feelings, my opinions, and my thoughts I will still be here. My mind is more like a roommate who never stops talking, a babbling friend that you just have to ignore sometimes to find that inner peace.
All we can do is keep on practicing and always being open to improve. The concentration and focus will come with practice. It doesn’t matter if it takes a month, a year or ten years. It is the journey that is important, not the destination.
Read part seven of the series here
Written by Anastasia Konstadinidis