Dhyāna: Total Concentration

by Olga Oskorbina |
August, 2022
tatra pratyaya-eka-tānatā dhyānam

When you focus your attention (psychic energy) on one object or when you fixate your mental suggestion on one idea and hold it there continuously without distraction, the result is meditation (dhyana).  

Common estimates for sustained attention to a freely chosen task for an adult is about 20 minutes. When closing eyes in meditation and being asked to focus on breath rather than performing an external task, those 20 minutes reduce into seconds. The mind is always looking for something to chew on – past or future, it resists the present moment and this moment’s breath. It may be caused by our strong belief that happiness is to be attained in some future, after all our desires are fulfilled and all past problems resolved, and here we are always in search for a better now, making the present moment a fleeting moment.  

Master Patanjali defines yoga as cessation of fluctuations of the mind. When the relentless thoughts cease, the seer is established in its own nature and the individual recognizes its true essence as svarupa, otherwise he says, one is identified with the thoughts only. Meditation is a process of getting to know your mind, paying attention to what’s going on inwardly, completely, with all its dark corners and deep rooted sankaras (subtle imprints caused by experiences), that often cause fear, anxiety and depression on the inside and conflict exploitation and domination on outside.  

That’s why at the start of meditation practice, unless a person already has a sattvic mind with natural capacity to become contemplative and in relationship with present moment, one will most likely come face to face with internal experiences that are far from peace and bliss. If the mind is tamasic you may simply fall asleep within few minutes of sitting, if the mind is rajasic there will be restlessness and raging thoughts. Deep rooted complexes, phobias and worries may surface, but this is an inevitable part of the process. Through meditation itself these mental impurities surface, are carefully attended to and dissolved in the light of pure observation. Consistent, continuous practice with faith in its efficacy is the key to dissolution of impurities. 

Another obstacle to meditation is the body and its constant calling for attention through discomfort – pain here, itching there. Patanjali describes āsana as a comfortable and steady seat, but it may take time to get there. Āsana practice is very useful for meditation as it removes and prevents ailments of the body and mind, strengthens the nervous system and makes the body supple and strong for longer sits without physical discomfort. When the body has become comfortable and can be still the mind will follow. As the mind becomes more sattvic with meditation and other practices such as study of scriptures, asana, pranayama, mantra repetition, and many more, the nature of thoughts in meditation changes. Often times reflections upon teachings of Truth will arise and their understanding and assimilation will deepen so that one finally becomes the wisdom that has been transmitted by our teachers. As Sharon Gannon puts it, we move from “listening to hearing to knowing to becoming and to being.” 

S.N. Goenka, Vipassana meditation teacher says that there are only two yardsticks to measure the progress in meditation practice: compassion and equanimity. If these two don’t develop, the technique may not be practiced correctly, he says, and need to be revised. With meditation being part of your daily life, ahimsa (non-harming) naturally will be established along with stillness and stability of the mind. There is a big variety of meditation techniques. Patanjali in sutra I.39 says yathābhimata-dhyānād vā:“Also through meditation in whatever way or on whatever object agreeable the mind-field attains stability”. We all have different inclinations according to our past experiences and we may be drawn to meditate on different objects as a focal point: images of various deities, mantra, sensations of the body, breath, chakras, sound or any other form or formless object that is agreeable.  

In Jivamukti Yoga classes we use breath awareness for its universality and words “let go”. It is a form of mantra meditation. Whatever is chosen, the practice is to bind the mind to it with firm determination and don’t get frustrated or defeated when you realize it’s difficult to stay with the object even for one minute. By repeatedly bringing attention back to the chosen object, seconds will turn into minutes, then minutes into hours and concentration will strengthen and eventually turn into meditation when remaining steady and uninterrupted with the object for a long time (dhyāna).  

If you have ever observed someone who is truly elite at any given skill, then you would have noticed that this person is in a place of total concentration. This helps us understand the way meditation is beneficial to every aspect of our lives.  

Investigate through direct experience – What is this body? What is this mind? And what is this that can observe the body and the mind? What is there on the background of every thought and every experience? From where they appear and where they go? Like that, in the darkness behind closed eyes in meditation, move deeper into the more subtle layers of reality and discover within the inner light, the whole existence, you’ve never been apart from – Satchitānanda – Truth, Consciousness, Bliss – your essential nature. This recognition of one shared being that has many names such as God, pure consciousness, Eternal Now, spirit, love is liberation from our perceived bondage. Happiness, just as unhappiness, is 100% one’s own responsibility. Be Happy. Know your Self.  


Teaching Tips

  • Explore longer meditation time in classes, increasing it gradually from 5 minutes to 10, 15, or 20 depending on the length of your Open class. Guide 2-3 minutes and then provide silence.  
  • Teach different meditation seats either as a peak pose or more in-depth than usual: sukhāsana, vajrāsana, vīrasana, padmāsana, siddhāsana / siddha yoni āsana. Use Hatha Yoga Pradīpika for reference.  
  • Offer different objects for the concentration. Start the month with external objects such as trātaka (gazing at a flame of a candle), or students can be asked to bring a mandala, mala beads. Then move to internal objects as month progresses, breath, mantra, sensations of the body, internal image or sound. Explore meditating on the formless and/or mantra Let Go, So’ham or Aham Brahmasmi.  
  • Use guided spoken word meditations from meditation masters such as the cosmic meditation by Shri Brahmananda found on youtube or others.  
  • Meditate yourself daily to have the experience of what you are teaching and share meditation experiences as a group to support and learn from each other.  
  • Read and teach from chapter 6 Bhagavad Gita – specific instructions for meditation in verses: 6:10 – 6:16.  
  • You may ask the students to commit to daily meditation whether or not they come to class. Something manageable like 5-10 minutes for the month. The benefits of meditation are cumulative and are only experienced through practice not theory. 
  • Use the guided relaxation and meditation from Sharon Gannon