Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi

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Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana,and Samadhi are the last four limbs of yoga, or the internal practices.  I am choosing to do them together because I think they lead into each other.

The 5th limb,Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses.  This idea follows closely behind pranayama because the breath exercises can help achieve this goal, by drawing the focus inward and letting go of attachment to the outer world, we can begin to experience pratyahara.  Using this can help us gain  focus in our asana practice as well. Let’s say you arrive at a yoga class and something is distracting you. Maybe a  sound, smell, feeling, or even another person.  By bringing the focus inward and letting go of the thoughts you are having about this distraction, you can let go of the distraction it’s self.  This is a very subtle and interesting level of yoga to work on. Using your inward focus and the breath or prana you can overcome the attachment to to things outside of the self. Allowing you to move deeper into your practice.

The 6th limb, Dharna, is concentration or fixed attention. This is easy to work on during your asana practice. We need to have a fair amount of focus to stand on one leg or hold an inversion. Pratyahara and even the use of a drishti (gazing point) is a way of practicing dharana. We can also work on this during meditation, or by doing focus exercises.  For example, taking some time to sit quietly and focus on one object, like a candle flame, and clear the mind. Hopefully by practicing dhrana you can increase your ability to stay focused when you are off your mat as well.

The 7th limb, Dhyana, is meditation. This can be one of the most challenging parts of the yoga practice.  The goal is to sit still and quite, with an empty mind. This sounds simple, but as soon as you try you will see that the mind tends to run in circles.  Sometimes we end up just practicing focus, never reaching that quite mind, but instead repeating a mantra or using a focus like the breath to help slow the whirling of the mind. In this way, you can see meditation as a one pointed focus, or a practice of dhrana.  Meditation is a vast concept, there are many types and traditions. I encourage you to look into and find a practice that works for you. Whether it is a visualization, a mantra, a walking meditation or just sitting quietly in nature, you will get the benefit of the practice.

The 8th and final limb, Samadhi, is bliss to no end, or unity with the object of focus. This is really a concept more than something you can work on. We strive for bliss with all of the 7 other limbs, hoping to get  a glimpse samadhi. It is said that you can get to this state in deep meditation. A place where the past and the present cease to matter and you are just in the here and now. I think we get little pieces of this in our lives. Those moments when everything falls into place and you want for nothing, you are content and happy. Either way I like the idea of moving towards bliss.

These last four limbs are a little more subtle and conceptual than the rest.  I am a big believer in meditation. It has helped me calm my mind and gain some inner peace.  Practicing yoga has also helped my level of focus in my day to day life, and helped me let go of unnecessary attachments. Choosing to work towards bliss is a great intention for my life as well. It encourages me to really look at what makes me happy and move towards it.

Speaking on the “bliss conciousness”or Samadhi “The intensity of happiness is beyond the superlative. The bliss of this state eliminates the possibility of any sorrow, great or small. Into the bright light of the sun no darkness can penetrate; no sorrow can enter bliss-consciousness, nor can bliss-consciousness know any gain greater than itself. This state of self-sufficiency leaves one steadfast in oneself, fulfilled in eternal contentment.” (from Maharishi’s translation and commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, 6:20)

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