Learn how to improve your focus for a calm and productive life.
The eight limbs of yoga
Almost 2,000 years ago an Indian sage, Patanjali, created the Yoga Sutras, a collection of ancient yogic texts. One of the main teachings is the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga) which can be described as the foundation of yoga and is commonly practised today by yogis all around the world. The Eight Limbs comprises of eight steps that lead us to enlightenment. If practised regularly they can help us to live a happy and meaningful life.
Patanjali’s Eight limbs are:
1. The Yamas (restraints)
2. The Niyamas (self-disciplines)
3. Asana (yoga poses)
4. Pranayama (breathing techniques)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (absorption)
The fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight-fold path embodies concentration, otherwise known as one-point focus. For many of us, our ‘monkey’ mind is so busy that we can have difficulty focusing on one task at a time. Often we tend to multi-task when there is so much evidence to suggest that this is not a productive way to approach to our work and personal lives. Think about a time where you have tried to sit down and really immerse yourself in an activity and your mind begins to ponder what you are making for dinner or a conversation you had with a work colleague earlier that day. In yoga, practising one-point focus allows us to prepare for meditation, however, there are also many other benefits to Dharana including improving our concentration and becoming more self-aware. This limb of yoga can be difficult to practise initially as it can require effort, however with practise this skill will improve over time. The goal of Dharana is to eventually transition into an effortless state of meditation.
To practise Dharana, we need a focal point. I often use the breath, counting the inhalations and exhalations, however you can also be an image, vibration, sound or mantra. Join the Facebook group Yoga Tribe Community for more videos on Pranayama (breathing techniques).
Practice Tip: Sit or lay in a comfortable position with the spine straight and eyes closed. Rather than attempting to clear your mind, focus on the breath. Inhale through the nose, deep into the belly, and exhale again through the nose. As you breathe in and out, try to count five or more on the inhalation and then do the same when you exhale. Over time, you may be able to comfortably count to nine or ten. Counting the inhalations and exhalations is Dharana. You are training your mind to focus on one point. This activity can be completed for 2 or 10 minutes. Start with only a few minutes if you are a beginner.
When we train our mind to focus, we are also learning awareness of our emotions and thoughts. Many of us live in autopilot where we react to situations unconsciously, from a place of emotion rather than logic. Becoming more aware of our emotions provides us with a choice in how we respond. For example, when we notice negative though patterns we can replace them with positive ones. Or we may find that if we are hurt or offended easily by the actions of others, we can change our perspective to better understand their point of view.
Practice Tip: Tratrika (candle light) meditation is a great way to practise Dharana. This is where we use the flame as our focal point. To begin, sit in a comfortable position, preferably a dark room, with a lit candle at eye level. Gaze at the candle, noticing the flames dancing and flickering, pay attention to the colour and texture of the flames. Draw your attention back to the flame every time your mind wanders. After about two minutes close the eyes and continue to visualise the image of the flame in detail on the back of your eyelids. You can add deep-belly breathing if you feel comfortable. This is another technique needs to be practised for only a few minutes to feel the benefits. Keep an eye on the Facebook group for a video on how to practice Tratrika.