Dharana & Dhyana: Two of the Eight Limbs of Yoga

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If you’ve gone through Ohana’s Yoga Teacher Training program then you know that asana – the physical form of yoga – is only a small part of the practice. Being a yogi encompasses so much more than just your classes in the studio. It is a holistic lifestyle designed to bring you closer to the Divine. But living and maintaining the yogic lifestyle isn’t just about how we choose to live our lives outwardly, it is about cultivating our inner world as well.

Where the concept of Dharana & Dhyana comes from

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras outline what he refers to as the Eight Limbs of Yoga, a basic framework on how to live a more meaningful and purposeful life. The Eight Limbs remind us that there is no one path to yoga or unity, there are several. Together, the Eight Limbs create a system by which one can reach the final state of samadhi or bliss. This is the ultimate goal of the yogi–to exist in a state of bliss, here and now, regardless of the external circumstances. 

Dharana and dhyana, the final two limbs before reaching samadhi, are all about creating the inner experience necessary to achieve this. When the body has been cleansed through asana and the senses are refined in pratyahara, the yogi is then able to draw inward. Through sustained continued awareness, the practitioner will be able to find an expansive state of consciousness.

The meaning behind Dharana

Dharana is the sixth of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs. Put simply, dharana is the practice of focused concentration. It is the refinement of inner perceptual awareness, which can be built through meditation. However, dharana isn’t any ordinary meditation. It requires the yogi to put all their attention towards one singular focus, whether it be a physical object, a single point in space, or simply your breath. 

Rather than the mind taking control and inevitably finding distraction, the practitioner is completely engrossed in the inner experience. But achieving this state of dharana isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s natural for our minds to jump from thing to thing, worry to worry. The monkey mind. Dharana requires us to stay totally engaged with the present moment. By meditating on a single point, we are able to foster our inward consciousness. 

The meaning behind Dhyana

Through the continued state of awareness cultivated during dharana, we are able to prepare our minds for the practice known as dhyana. Dhyana, the seventh of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path, uses this meditative state to take things a step further. Dhyana is the experience of opening consciousness and therefore opening yourself to the most subtle experiences of life. Something greater. This philosophy assumes that whatever we choose to devote our full attention to, we become. So the logic follows, if we meditate on kindness, we become kind. If we focus on love, we become love. 

How to practice Dharana

The practice of dharana is all about concentrating the mind to prepare for meditation. As the goal is to channel your focus towards one single point, you can practice dharana by doing something as simple as being mindful of each individual inhale and exhale of breath during your yoga practice. Another way to practice dharana is to light a candle and use the flickering flame as your focus point. 

There is no time limit or recommendation for how long to do this, it is totally up to you and your own level of awareness. Remember, this exploration into consciousness is a journey into the unknown. Getting quiet and finding stillness can be uncomfortable. It is about pushing through this discomfort and staying completely engaged in the experience where the magic happens. 

How to Practice Dhyana

This limb is slightly more complicated to describe, as it will be a different experience for each individual yogi. Practicing dhyana only comes when one has moved beyond all outward illusions, able to see things as they really are. Experiencing dharana you might even lose all senses in your physical body, feel otherworldly, lighter, and tingly all because you are that connected to the Divine. 

This type of meditation isn’t about thinking or abandoning all thoughts. It’s about eliminating obstructions to unity because unity is always here. Unity is always available to us if we choose to embrace it. In this way, dhyana embodies the idea of living your yoga. When we open ourselves up in this way, we are able to pull back the curtain on reality – we can finally see that all is one and that nothing exists outside of the here and now. 

To get deeper into Patanjali’s Eight Limbs, check out the 30 Day Yogic Philosophy Journey!