The sixth limb of yoga Dharana – concentration
Finding it hard to meditate? You’re not alone. You just can’t stop thinking right?
Many people new to meditation find it near impossible. As soon as they are asked to be still their mind goes wandering at a million miles an hour. Sound familiar?
Meditation requires concentration, and the inability to concentrate, control your senses and desires and focus on one thing is the biggest barrier to meditation. Without concentration, all our efforts to meditate will be futile. Unfortunately there are no short cuts or tip sheets on how to sharpen your mind’s ability to concentrate – other than through practice.
Here’s a bit of theory on the 4 stages of thinking – ordinary thinking, contemplation, concentration and meditation. Taken from Osho’s Book of Secrets (by the way if you’re interested in yoga philosophy, understanding the nature of mind, awareness etc, then Osho is the man to read).
“Ordinary thinking is the ordinary state of mind, characterised by random, uncontrolled thoughts. It is undirected and the pattern is one of association, one thought leading to another etc.
Contemplation means directed thinking, you are working on a particular problem and you bracket out all other thoughts to think only about that problem. Eg a Mathematician working on a problem is contemplation.
Concentration is the next step, concentration is staying on one point. It is not thinking it is not contemplation. It is being at one point and not allowing the mind to move at all.
Meditation is the highest possibility – the absence of mind.
Understand this, your mind is just a vagabond, a wandering. It is never at one point. It is always going, moving, reaching but never at one point.
Consciousness is your nature; mind is your activity – just like walking. It is difficult because we think mind is something substantial. We think mind is a substance – it is not, mind is just activity. It is a process just like walking. Walking is a process, if you stop walking there is no walking, you have legs, no walking,
Consciousness is like legs – your nature. Mind is like walking – just a process.”
Trying to meditate without concentration is like driving a car without petrol, you’ll get stuck and go nowhere. Concentration is the fuel that eventually dissolves all thought and distraction, leaving just space.
So how do we practice concentration? Asana classes are a great opportunity to flex your mental muscle (aka concentration) rather than just your physical muscles. There are plenty of cues in the class such as “draw your attention inwards”, “focus on the breath”, “fix your gaze”, “pay attention to how you’re feeling”. Asana classes aren’t just a workout for your body they are equally challenging for the mind. You’ve already been practicing concentration without even realising it!
Yin classes really hone our concentration skills as there is very little to do physically. Most people get bored and wander off in thought, with only very brief moments of awareness. Rather than using this time to zone out and escape your worldly stresses, why not practice concentration so that you can eventually free your mind of all thought?
Want to take it further? Bring mindfulness into your daily life, take your practice off the mat. Start with awareness of the breath, then with paying attention when you’re doing mundane tasks such as washing the dishes, waiting in traffic or in the shower.
The eight-fold path of yoga takes a lifetime. So if you’re struggling with concentration, maybe go back a step to pratyahara – mastery of the senses, if you struggle with pratyahara – take a step back to pranayama – harness the breath.
There’s no rush, enjoy the process and with effort and discipline you will get there.
What to do in the meantime?
Start paying attention to your thoughts. Realise how active and busy your mind is. Maybe spend 5 minutes writing down every thought that enters your mind (and then burn the piece of paper so people don’t think you’re mad!) Most people believe they have everything under control, but without mastery or control of the mind, we are still a slave to thinking.