A one-track mind, or, dhyana

Candle burning
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Meditation. Lots of people have heard of it, many may think they “can’t do it”, others may not know what its benefits are, and quite a few probably think it sounds all bit strange and isn’t for them.

We have reached the seventh limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and after practising how to concentrate (see dharana) we are now ready for dhyana, or meditation itself. According to Patanjali, dhyana or meditation is ‘a steady, continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point or region’ (Sutra 3.2).

Uninterupted single-pointed focus on a particular object is meditation. This complete focus on one object may last only a matter of seconds, it may last longer, but all attention is on the object, be it the breath, or image, or mantra etc.

This is where some people might feel they “cannot” meditate because “there’s always something going on in my mind” or “I can’t stop the thoughts”, or “I’m always thinking of something”. But meditation (dhyana) is not about stopping all thoughts, but managing to be totally focused on only one thing. As soon as other non-related thoughts pop into the mind (and they will), the mind notices this happening and can re-focus on the chosen object. The meditation moment has been temporarily broken, but the practitioner can re-focus on their single point.

Dhyana is contemplative observation and can be achieved during a meditation practice, during asana practice and during pranyama, if the mind is completely focused on one thing.

But why bother doing this? I’ve blogged previously about what’s happening in the brain when you meditate, and about the benefits of meditation so I won’t list them again here. There are many benefits for people today, but back when Patanjali was talking about yoga, dhyana was seen as the final step before total absorption, the eight limb, which we’ll cover next month.

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