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  • Understanding Dhyana, The 7th Limb of Yoga l with a guided meditation

    July 14, 2022 4 min read

    I came to yoga for the physical benefits. As someone who has always been movement-oriented, I thought the asanas seemed like a nice way to stretch. I liked that I could count on some classes to break a sweat. What I didn’t anticipate was the awareness. The more time I spent on my mat, the more I began to feel a new sense of presence in my body. As I continued attending classes, I found myself wanting to stay in savasana longer. As I lied there, I felt aware and in my body in a way I never had before. For those fleeting moments, I felt like my brain was working differently; softer somehow. I didn’t understand it at the time, but at the end of my practice I was experiencing moments of dhyana.

    According to one of the most widely known yogic texts, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there is an eight-fold path to follow towards liberation, known as the “Eight Limbs of Yoga.” Each stage builds off the previous. Each limb offers techniques that enable the practitioner to move forward and deepen their practice with each new stage. For example, the 6th limb (dharana) offers techniques to practice meditation and leads into the 7th limb (dhyana).

    What is dhyana?

    Dhyana is a Sanskrit word, and can be best translated as “contemplation” or “meditation”. It is derived from two root words - “dhi” meaning “mind” and “yana” meaning “moving.” Alternate definitions suggest that the term was derived from the Sanskrit word “dhyai” which means “to think of.”

    This term is sometimes used interchangeably with “meditation,” however there are subtle but important differences between these terms.

    Meditation is the practice of calming or quieting the mind. There are a wide variety of techniques and schools of meditation, each with their own methods used to help achieve stillness. Some practices include a visual focal point or an audible mantra, while others leverage body scanning or breath techniques; others utilize complete silence. Dhyana is the resulting state of being in meditative absorption. Therefore, it can be said that meditation is the path that leads to dhyana.

    Another related term with a notable difference is the 6th limb of yoga: dharana. Dharana is the concentration of mind. It can be understood as the action, whereas dhyana is the resulting state of mind. Dharana is more narrow in scope, whereas dhyana is a more immersive experience of continuously being in a meditative flow state.

    How can I practice dhyana?

    Understanding Dhyana, the 7th Limb of Yoga

    While it may be tempting to “do more” and put in “more effort”, it’s actually the practice of doing less that helps us to achieve this meditative state. Dhyana meditation can be practiced in many ways. It may take some experimentation with different techniques to find one that allows you to effectively narrow your focus. Here are a few suggestions :

    • Use a mantra - A mantra is a sound, word or phrase which can be used as a focal point during dhyana meditation. As the mind naturally begins to wander, the practitioner continuously comes back to the mantra.
    • Use a visual focal point - Not all meditation needs to be done with eyes closed. Some techniques leverage a visual focal point such as a candle, a plant or a crystal. Having a single point to direct the gaze can be very beneficial in achieving a narrow focus and state of resting awareness. Read more on The Art of Drishti in Yoga & Meditation.
    • Use your breath as an anchor - One of the most commonly offered focal points in meditation is the breath. By concentrating on the simple rise and fall of the breath, a stillness of the mind can be achieved.

    By using dharana meditation techniques, the practitioner can develop greater awareness of the origins of their thoughts, feelings and emotional states. Through continuous use of these practices, one begins to slip into dhyana, a state in which thoughts, feelings, emotions and distractions are set aside and open conscious awareness can take place. At first, dhyana may only be experienced for a moment or two, but gradually with continuous practice, one can prolong these experiences.

    What are the benefits of practicing dhyana?

    Dhyana offers the teaching of observation without judgment. It invites us to shed our attachment to the outcome of our practice. Oftentimes throughout the practice of meditation, the mind begins to wander and thoughts of self-criticism may arise. To reach a state of dhyana, it is necessary to continuously welcome a more compassionate view of self, and to allow each experience to be what it is, not what you think it should be. Whether you are new to the practice of meditation, or already experiencing long stretches of dhyana, many benefits can be experienced. Simply sitting in a state of restful awareness can offer significant softening of the nervous system. It can help improve focus and concentration, extending far beyond the duration of the practice.

    Victoria Maybee l Mukha Yoga
    By Victoria Maybee; All Rights Reserved @2022

    Victoria Maybee l Mukha YogaBy Victoria Maybee; All Rights Reserved @2022