There have been a handful of poses that have really progressed me toward dharana, the sixth limb of yoga. Once we have cultivated stillness through asana, pranayama, and pratyahara, we’re ready to build concentration. For me, half moon pose is among those that has helped the most with concentration. It’s one of the poses that requires a focal point or drishti. In class, the focal point is meant to help the yogi stay in the pose. Put all of your concentration in the focal point, and the body listens better somehow.
In itself, focusing on something is dharana. Of course, the mind wanders but there’s a good explanation in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali about that very problem. It’s fine for the mind to wander, just bring your mind back around to the thing it’s supposed to be concentrating on. Asana helps us find this place, but it’s concentrating on something while still that helps us find the next limb. The limbs build on each other toward samadhi, so simply allowing the focal point to help us perform an asana better isn’t going to help us get where we’re going.
Of course, wanting to be better at the asana and exercise of yoga is a fine goal as well, just not the one we’re talking about at the moment. On the path to samadhi, limbs three through five help us get to concentration. Concentrating on an object and practicing concentration is what leads to meditation, the seventh limb. Before we can actually meditate, though, we have to train our minds to not take all those delightful detours.
Honestly, this is where we start to veer into unknown territory for me as a yogi. I’ve been doing yoga for just over a decade now but I didn’t understand the limbs or what yoga really progresses us toward until the last few years. It was happening but I didn’t see it. It was slow, like weight loss. It wasn’t until someone pointed it out that I realized I didn’t have or even want the rage that used to consume me sometimes.
I could concentrate longer on things. I could sit longer, even in unpleasant situations. I wasn’t docile, but I wasn’t emotional about things. When I resisted something, I did it calmly. Even now, when upsetting things happen, I laugh a lot. I get a lot of comments from coworkers about it. I can’t explain how I can keep a positive disposition while everything falls apart around us so much more often. Don’t get me wrong, I still have emotional days and the rage simmers back up, but it’s not with the same frequency as most of the people around me. It’s not with the same things either. I was practiced in withdrawing from the things that were happening around me.
I had also gotten better at concentrating on things for long periods. Unfortunately, I’m still at the stage where that comes and goes. If I don’t get to practice yoga for a few days it doesn’t take much of a hit. If I end up in a situation where I haven’t practiced in a few weeks, concentration goes out the window. My attitude and anger come back too, but strangely, I’m still able to laugh at the ridiculous things. That happens a lot at my work. Things aren’t just bad, they stray toward the ridiculous and I’d rather laugh than get enraged. We have to do the work either way.
I’ve been better and worse at concentration, but it’s worth continuing to practice. Not only is meditation amazing when it happens, but the concentration itself has helped me get it together more times than I can count. It clears my head and I deal better with the ups and downs of life. There’s really no substitution for yoga in my life once I hit the sixth limb. It’s what turns yoga from an exercise to a way of life.