Meditation. I can’t recall the first time I heard this word, but nowadays, a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think or mention this word at least once. According to CDC, the use of Yoga and Meditation tripled from 2014 to 2017. With Yoga gaining popularity each year, it is common to find articles online and in magazines that instructs the reader on how to meditate. I’m all for more people meditating, but the word meditation is actually misused more often than not. Most people — when talking about meditation — are actually talking about concentration, which is called Dharana in Sanskrit.
Dharana is a single-pointed concentration on an object, place or a thought. This is the precursory step before meditation (Dhyana) which will be next week’s blog. Solomon is the son of King David who became king at age 12. He was known for his wisdom (and wealth), and this is what he said in Proverbs:
“My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings.
Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.”
Proverbs 4:20-27 (ESV)
In verse 25 (bolded and underlined above), King Solomon gives the advice to look directly forward, gazing straight ahead. To carry out this instruction requires dharana. Dharana weeds out the distractions that take us away from whatever we’re trying to accomplish.
When I was learning about meditation while going through my 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training, I would often go into my walk-in closet and practice meditation behind closed doors. I was serious about my meditation practice: I would close the master bedroom door, walk into the bathroom and close the bathroom door, walk into my closet and close the closet door, and then I would put earplugs in so that I wouldn’t be disrupted, disturbed or distracted. I sat still and started practicing pranayama for about 10 minutes; during this time, I also practiced pratyahara (sense withdrawal) and dharana by counting my breaths (“Breathe in 54, breathe out 54. Breathe in 53, breathe out 53…” all the way down to zero) which allowed me to experience true meditation. Meditation is one of those things where the moment you’re aware that you’re meditating, you are now out of meditation. During this time of COVID-19 quarantining and social distancing, it is so helpful to the mind, body and spirit to practice dharana. Here’s a dharana practice you can try at home:
- Place a lit candle in front of you, ideally at eye level.
- Sit in a comfortable position. If sitting/kneeling on the floor isn’t comfortable, feel free to sit on a chair with your feet flat on the ground without your back touching the back of the chair.
- As you softly gaze at the candle light, allow your breaths to become even (inhales are the same length as the exhales)
- Continue this practice as you allow your gaze to go through the candle light, passively looking through the candlelight.
- Increase the length of the practice by 30 seconds or a minute each time you practice.
By practicing dharana regularly, you will be well on your way to experiencing meditation!