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Cultivating Dharana: The Key to Meditation and Health
Among the eight limbs of Yoga, dharana or concentration is one of the higher limbs that precedes dhyana or meditation. Yet today, several Yoga teachers and their students do not develop proper dharana and instead go straight into various meditations and try and control the mind. According to traditional Yoga these are superficial and usually last only a short period of time alone, and can create issues among both Yoga teachers and students for concentration, as the mind wonders.
Rishi Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (III.1) describes Dharana as “holding the Chitta (mind) on a particular object”.
We cannot proceed to meditation or any meditations however, if we have not developed dharana in the mind and made it ekagra, that is, single-pointed and focused. Otherwise, the wandering nature of the mind, the vrittis, the waves of the mind due to the vasanas or mental impressions in the Chitta where they are stored, begin to move and make the mind unstable and wavering. The mind, we must remember, is very subtle.
On this note, there is a reference in the Rig Veda (I.51.10) in which the horses of Vata are controlled by the mind (manoyuja). Vata (air, wind) is the biological humour of movement (gati) in Ayurveda and also relates to the subtle nature of the mind. It’s horses represent the indriyas senses, and also the vrittis or movements of the mind. The term manoyuja refers to harnessing and controlling the mind, synonymous to the later definition of Yoga by Rishi Patanjali as “chitta vritti nirodha” or negating the waves of the mind; causing their cessation.
In order to do this, we require iccha-shakti or will-power through dharana-shakti or concentration.
One of the traditional methods was Trataka or Yogic-gazing. The text Hatha Yoga Pradipika (II.31) defines Trataka as looking at a small point, with one’s gaze not moving until tears come to the eyes. One of the Bahirangi or external methods for this traditionally was to stare at a ghee-lamp or candle until the eyes watered, which helps one develop a deeper concentration without looking away from this point. Through this, one develops iccha-shakti or will-power, as Agni the fire itself, as Tejas also relates to Tapas or austerities and provides us with intellectual awakening powers of the mind, especially at the level of the buddhi or intellect.
Trataka or yogic gazing on a lamp is also useful for all three biological types according to Ayurveda, such as Vata (windy), Pitta (fiery) and Kapha (phlegmatic) types:
- For Vata (ether and air or airy) types with unstable and wondering minds prone to anxiety, it helps to steady and stabilise their mind and also provides heat through the flame, awakening their powers of vivekagni or fire of discrimination. It gives them stillness.
- For Pitta (fire and water or bilious) types who are aggressive and fiery, it helps to stabilise these emotions and by producing tears, helps to eliminate the krodha-vasanas or angry-impressions in their mind and also cleanses their emotions and liver (the eyes are a site of Pitta and fire in the body and crying helps reduce these emotions and helps eyesight / perception also on all levels), having a cooling effect. Crying or producing tears is very therapeutic and helps cleanse emotions and has a more cooling and Kapha nature, which is what Pitta types need
- For Kapha (water and earth or phlegmatic) types, prone to lack of energy, will-power, discrimination and prone to depression, it instills the Agni or fire in their mind and awakens their kriyashakti, the power of action through this absorption of heat and gives them better powers of viveka or discrimination, which in them and Vata types is low and variable respectively and brings in heat and retrospection into their minds.
This is why the ancient forms of Trataka are there in the Agni-Hotras or fire sacrifices of India, which had such effects through looking at the fire intently and focusing upon it when offering prayers and substances into it – a kind of ritualistic dharana so to speak. This is why ancient people had sharp minds and intellects, good powers of discrimination through this sharpening of their minds and agnis, which also had a physical effect by awakening their jatharagis (digestive fires) and metabolisms also and helping in diseases.
Today we can also learn from these simple techniques of developing dharana or will-power such as Trataka and help regulate or mental metabolism, whereby correcting our physical metabolism and biological humours or doshas as a result.