By Shameem Akthar
Practice dharana, the sixth step in yoga, to conquer the ego
Dharana is the sixth step in yoga. Unfortunately, it is the most neglected one. Unfortunately also, all your asana practice and dhyana (meditation) practice will tote up to nothing if you are weak in dharana. Yet, yoga instructors and practitioners routinely skip this sixth step of dharana, or focus and concentration.
Indologist and yoga expert David Frawley points out that dhyana practice must be developed only after the foundation of dharana has been well-established. It shocked me into realising how often I have myself bypassed this for the more exotic asanas or more self-gratifying dhyana. Asana is physically exciting, and can be rather an ego-booster. Dhyana practice is equally an ego-booster, because we use it to evaluate our spiritual growth. Since dharana is a mundane step in between these ego-boosters, we don’t bother about it. But to cut out the flab of ego in our asana and dhyana practice, we must use the sharp knife of dharana.
Dharana is mundane precisely because of this: to focus, we must put aside our egos. We neglect dharana practice, because setting our egos aside is so tough. Instead, we busy ourselves with our ego-boosters in our daily sadhana.
In sadhakas, the ego reinvents itself so subtly that it is even more urgent that we strengthen our dharana practice to save ourselves from losing our way forever in the web that our ego spins. The web it weaves is so fine that we fail to see it, even as it tightens around us. Increasingly, this is the danger of most spiritually inclined people. That is why some self-proclaimed seekers are more dangerous than rabid trouble-makers.
Now that we have agreed upon the danger of the ego, how do we incorporate dharana in our daily yoga practice? The reason why asana practice has incorporated a breath sequence is precisely to marry this element of concentration to our practice. Each asana has a breath sequence. Only some schools actively promote this. Also, while I do not subscribe to the purists who run down all fusions that yoga has acquired, I would advise against pop versions, which bypass certain elements of classical yoga, such as attention to the breath sequence. Other dharana elements in your daily yoga practice are: the precision of alignment that you must make in your pose; the deliberate relaxation you must introduce in your body after assuming the final pose. If you have advanced well enough in these, then you must shift your attention to the major chakra that is activated in the particular pose.
In case you are confused about breath sequences, I will give you a simple tip. In all movements where your head looks up, you inhale. In all movements where you press down or look down, you exhale. Again, as you twist, you exhale. And while returning to the centre, you inhale. This is the most classical of breath sequences you need to remember. Remember that this simple focus is what will muscle your sadhana like nothing else!
Nasikgraha mudra (nose-tip meditation)
This is a dharana practice. Sit in a meditative pose. Spine erect. Eyes shut. Focus your attention on the movement of breath at your nostril. Feel the flare of the nostrils, the soft feel of the breath, its temperature (it is warm as it comes out, cooler as it enters). As the mind wanders after just a few seconds, bring it again back to this breath awareness at the nostrils. Keep bringing the mind back. After a few minutes, open your eyes. Initially, do this only for a few minutes. Increase the time span as you gain more discipline.
Points to Note
Avoid it, if you are introverted or depressed. It helps with mental focus and concentration. When these are strengthened, not only does your meditation improve, but your health blossoms. Where the focus is clear cut without emotional distractions, as happens in dharana, the body and the mind relax completely, giving birth to perfect health. Most people do not realize that this is the most important and easiest secret to attain absolute health.
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