Yoga Sutras for Modern Life. Seventh Limb: Dhyana

Our mini-series on the Eight Limbs of Yoga according to the ancient Sanskrit text Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has gotten to its seventh episode. Today we talk about Dhyana or “contemplation and meditation”.

Dhyana builds on the previous limb, Dharana (one-pointed concentration). To put it simply, Dhyana is the exercise of maintaining Dharana for longer periods of time.

Dhyana in practice

Have you ever found yourself so immersed in the admiration of something – be it natural scenery or a work of art – or so concentrated in doing something you love that you forget your surroundings? That is Dhyana, the focus of the mind on one object or activity without interruption.

To put Dhyana into perspective, think about when you sit for meditation. Let’s say you begin to focus on the breath. Perhaps you choose to notice how the your belly moves in and out with each breath. This moment of concentration is dharana. Then your foot starts itching and you find yourself thinking about it —this is a distraction. You bring your focus back to the breath. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Then you think about how you need to stop at the supermarket on the way home – another distraction. You gently guide your mind back to the breath. In the moments when you managed to stay focused on your breath you reach Dharana — concentration on one single point.

With practice, your Dharana moments become longer and longer – perhaps a few minutes or more of maintaining your attention on the breath without distractions. This is the Eureka! moment, when you realise that the transition to Dhyana is taking place. Complete physical and mental stillness – without the interference of your mind or senses.

How to practice Dhyana in everyday life

As we all lead busy lives, here are some easy ways we can try to squeeze a few minutes for mastering Dhyana into our schedule.

  1. Walking meditations

When commuting to work or walking the dog at the local park, you can use this time mindfully focusing on what is happening in the present moment without judging. With walking meditation, you move your body without a specific goal beyond walking with awareness. You focus on your breath, feelings, and thoughts, as well as the sensations and movements of your body with each step you take.

  1. Take advantage of technology

There are tons of apps out there that can help you with a short guided meditation. All you need are some headphones. You can put on a meditation as you walk, on your travels or when you are comfy on your sofa at home after a long day. Try different meditation apps to get a feel for what is right for you.

  1. Meditate as soon as you wake up

Before hitting the ground running, start the day with a few minutes of meditation. This is one of the easiest ways to set the tone for day. As soon as you’re awake and starting to think about your day, hit pause and give yourself a few more minutes. You can do this laying down or sitting on the side of your bed. Make it your own time.

  1. Meditate while you wait

Whether you are visiting your GP or a friend is running late, waiting is part of life. Rather than grabbing your phone to distract yourself, this could be the perfect time to get into the meditation zone. You can use one of the apps or just concentrate on your breathing. Notice where your thoughts go, bringing them back to the present if needed. By the time you finish, it will be your turn in line and you will be left feeling wholesome inside, and the people around you will benefit too.

Dhyana is the final step to conquer before achieving samadhi (enlightenment), the eighth limb and the ultimate destination on the path of yoga.

The uninterrupted flow of Dhyana is not something that happens in a day, a week, a month, or maybe even a year. The benefits of meditation emerge with time, practice and consistency. It’s truly a lifelong practice. If you haven’t already started, why not try it  today