The Eight Limbs of Yoga–Part IX
Welcome back to the Limb by Limb Series! The Eight Limbs of Yoga, as written by the great Patanjali, outlines a way of living in order to achieve happiness and peace within. Each limb offers a different approach, beginning with ethics and self-discipline, then the physical body and breath, and finally inward to the mind.
Once you’ve practiced and begun to master the 6th limb, Dharana, or one-pointed concentration, you are now ready to combine it with the penultimate, or 7th, limb called Dhyana. (Please refer to The Limb by Limb Series Part VIII to learn more about Dharana.) Dhyana is the meditation stage and has been described in the Hindu Scriptures as a “continuous flow” of oil being poured from one pot into another. The flow is unbroken, just like the mind itself is fixed in this stage.
It is common for people to mistake Dharana for Dhyana; it is common for people to think they are meditating when they are actually concentrating. However, once a person trains their mind for a long time in concentration, or Dharana, it gradually becomes a longer and longer “flow of cognition,” eventually leading to Dhyana. In Dhyana, you reach a state of acute awareness but without a specific focus. The mind is quiet and produces few to no thoughts at all.
There are a few different ways to know if you are actually meditating (Dhyana) or if you are practicing one-pointed attention (Dharana).
Let’s say that you are attending a meditation class. You sit down to begin your meditation at 5am for an hour. The bell rings at 6am and you wonder how an hour could have gone by so fast! This is a sign that you were meditating. However, if the bell rings and five minutes feels like an hour, then you are probably still concentrating.
Time and space are meaningless during meditation. You don’t know where you are and your body awareness disappears. It is an out of body experience in which the mind transcends body consciousness. This is similar to sleep because when you are sleeping, you don’t know you have a body. If someone moves you while you’re in a deep sleep, you will wake up the next morning wondering how you got from the couch to the bed. So if you are meditating, you will lose your body awareness as well as sense of time.
Another sign that you are truly meditating is you can experience beautiful and elevating visions. Or, perhaps you see a beautiful light and feel that you are basking in the full moonlight. Sometimes you may hear peaceful sounds like the ocean, a gong or notes from a flute. These things just happen to you and should not be mistaken with your imagination. The power of suggestion can lead you to imagine that you are experiencing these things when in reality you aren’t. You will know the difference and again, it should just happen, along with time and space being lost.
Dhyana, or meditation, is a practice that takes much mental strength and stamina. It is an impressive state of mind to achieve, and can take years upon years of diligent practice to achieve. Patanjali writes the Eight Limbs of Yoga in a specific order because each limb builds upon the next. Train your mind through continued practice of Dharana to prepare for the journey of Dhyana. Take it step by step and be patient. You do not need to attain the perfect posture or the perfect state of consciousness. Each stage of the process benefits you greatly. As Ralph Waldo Emerson so eloquently said: “Life is a journey, not a destination.” And this is true with your yoga practice. It is the journey within yourself that matters.
Keep on practicing and enjoy the ride!