Mindfulness has been promoted by the media as a new silver bullet to help people manage all sorts of health issues. However, mindfulness is an integral part of yoga, as students become increasingly mindful through yoga asanas and pranayama. The cultivation of concentration is the starting point for mindfulness.
Dharana the sixth petal of yoga means concentration which is achieved when we focus on a single point, or total attention on what one is doing, the mind remaining unmoved and unperturbed. Dharana or concentration is the preparatory step towards attaining a deeper meditative stance. Dharana helps to reduce the chattering of the mind and filters out all irrelevant thought processes. Dharana can be practiced in the asanas. To ‘be in the pose’ requires practice of dharana, letting go of the ego and focusing awareness completely on the asana. Dharana may be achieved in asana and pranayama as we move towards a single focused state of attention.
When dharana continues for a long time it evolves into dhyana – meditation, the seventh petal of yoga. When the mind stops wandering and maintains a continuous period of stillness, at that point we are in dhyana. Dhyana or meditation is a state of being in which we are keenly aware without a need for focus and with the mind at its quietest. In this state of mind, we no longer possess bodily awareness, the sense organs are not distracted, and the stillness produces few or no thoughts at all. In this state there is nothing else we can think about. Glimpses of this state can be observed in the asanas as they are repeated again and again, our ability improves and eventually maintains the asana with greater concentration becoming fully absorbed in it. It comes when a process turns into something totally natural, ‘effortless effort’. BKS Iyengar described asanas done in such a way as ‘meditation in action’.
When dhyana meditation further evolves it becomes samadhi – absorption or bliss. Samadhi is the eighth and final petal of yoga and is described as insight, rapture, or a state of ecstasy; a state in which the individual merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the self-altogether. Having a continuous practice of meditation merges into a state of samadhi. As we meditate, both mind and body relax into a state of deep and profound restfulness. Any dramas in the mind or emotional upheavals get dissolved without effort, and a personal experience of complete peace, joy, and creativity unfolds. In this meditative state there is no separation between self and the world around us; the individual experiences complete oneness and in that state there is only peace.
The integration of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi requires cultivation of mindfulness through the quality of focus, concentration, and letting go of the ego to experience oneness with your true self. In this state, you experience contentment and enjoy a sense of accomplishment. It’s a great positive spir
al and it results in improved health and happiness. Thus, the ultimate objective of yoga is stilling the fluctuations of the mind to achieve complete liberation from mental turbulence, seeing things as they truly are and experiencing only peace is realised.
Next time you do Virabhadrasana III, consider your state of mind and how mindful you need to be to achieve and sustain the asana. Notice that any mental distraction results in instability, while complete concentration is essential for balance.
Performing yoga through a concentrated frame of mind, mindfulness and much more is realised which helps us bring about a mental state of contentment and stillness.