If you practice yoga, you’re familiar with that great feeling of focus, mindfulness, and peace that comes with the practice. Yoga, like conventional meditation, is the practice of connecting with yourself, and there are eight steps or ‘limbs’ on this path to connection, and ultimately freedom. In this post, we’ll look at learning about Dhyana meditation.
Dhyana is the 7th limb of yoga that focuses on meditative absorption, where we become completely focused on the practice of meditation. In this article, we’ll look at what Dyana meditation is and how it can help your meditation practice.
Misconceptions of Yoga
People often think of Yoga and meditation as two separate practices, but Yoga is a meditative practice, and meditation (Dhyana) is a key limb of Yoga.
The practice of Yoga has evolved into something quite different from its original roots and has become confused in the modern world with many myths now surrounding Yoga. Some misconceptions include:
- It’s just a practice of stretching
- It’s too easy, I want something more challenging
- I’m not flexible enough for yoga
- It’s a religion or cult
So let’s address this misconception here and go back to the basics.
The ancient meditation manual: the Yoga Sutras
This definition of Yoga comes from the ‘authoritative text’ on Yoga called the Yoga Sutras (the “Sutras”) written by Patanjali around 2,000 years ago.
The Sutras were the first text to collate and systemize thousands of years of yogis’ direct experience, wisdom, and knowledge gained through practicing different forms of breathwork, exercises, meditation, social codes, ethical codes, and basically using their minds and bodies as laboratories to test how humans could master the distractions of their mind to live a happy, healthy life.
Therefore, Yoga is often described as a wisdom science because it is based upon thousands of years of people’s direct experience.
You might be surprised to hear that no physical postures are featured in the Sutras and, of the 196 sutras in the text, the physical postures/practice of Yoga have been mentioned only a handful of times.
The Sutras is actually a meditation manual designed to help a practitioner of meditation understand the nature of their mind and explain how the system of Yoga can be used to train the mind and, ultimately if this is the goal of the practitioner, reach enlightenment.
The purpose of the physical postures, as described in the Sutras, is to still the distractions of the mind and prepare the mind and body for seated meditation.
The Yoga Sutras outline an 8-limb system of Yoga designed to enable the practitioner to still the changing states of the mind so that the practitioner can see the true nature of themselves and the world around them.
A key concept to this realization is the separation of the mind and soul; this concept is described in modern times by psychology as the separation of the ego and consciousness. Your mind is represented by your thoughts/ego and your soul is represented by your consciousness/awareness. But don’t just take my word for it, try the experiment below to test this concept for yourself:
- Set a timer for 5-10 minutes
- Sit and concentrate on an object of your choosing – this could be a point on the wall or floor, or close your eyes and concentrate on your breath
- Focus your attention on that object
- Every time a thought diverts your attention, redirect your attention to the object until the timer finishes
Now spend a moment to reflect and ask yourself the following questions:
- How long did you maintain focus on the object without a thought distracting your attention?
- How often was your attention diverted away from the present moment by thoughts about the past or future?
- What was the nature of your thoughts? How did they make you feel?
- What was the nature of your awareness? How did it make you feel?
The meditation limb of Yoga (Dhyana meditation) and the path to enlightenment
The second to last of the 8-limb system is meditation (Dhyana). This limb comes after the limb of concentration (Dharana) and before the final limb of absorption/enlightenment (Samadhi).
The limbs of concentration and meditation follow in consequential order because this is the process of meditation.
First, you have to train the mind to concentrate on a single object (Dharana) before you can enter the uninterrupted awareness state of Dhyana.
This is the process of meditation, as illustrated below, which involves concentration on an object, a period of uninterrupted awareness, and mind-wandering thoughts.
The cycle of Dharana and Dhyana:
When you shift from concentration (Dharana) to meditation (Dhyana) you enter uninterrupted awareness where you no longer need to focus on an object. Then the mind kicks in, and realizes you’re meditating and you have to concentrate on an object again. This is the cycle of Dharana and Dhyana.
This cycle is essential to the process of meditation. The more cycles you perform consistently over a sustained period of time the longer your period of uninterrupted awareness (meditation) (Dhyana) will become.
Training your mind is akin to training a muscle in your body. You don’t lift a few reps and notice an immediate improvement in your strength; to strengthen a muscle you have to perform reps consistently over a sustained period of time. The same applies to the process of meditation as you are essentially training your brain to become more concentrated, more one-focused, away from the distractions of wandering thoughts.
When you first embark upon a meditation practice you might find yourself able to stay in that stage only for 30 seconds, but with continuous practice, dedication, and patience, your period of ‘uninterrupted awareness’ will increase allowing you to enter deeper states of meditation.
Summary of Dhyana the 7th limb of Yoga (meditation):
- Dhyana is the period of uninterrupted awareness of the object of meditation, without being distracted by any other thought.
- Dhyana follows concentration on a single object (Dharana).
- Dhyana is an advanced mental state that takes practice and patience to enter into.
- Dhyana is time limited and lasts for a relatively short period of time, especially at the start of meditation practice. With practice and patience, however, the period of time spent in Dhyana will increase as your concentration (Dharana) improves.
Dhyana is a state of being, without thinking, feeling, or judging; it is a state of peacefulness, bliss, and contentment. This state of peacefulness is the fruit of meditation practice, but you have to water the plant to taste the fruits.
To be applied, practiced, not just read about…
Yoga, like any other philosophy or practice, is meant to be applied, experienced, and lived.
Yoga is not a theoretical subject to just be read about. Use your mind, body, and awareness as your personal laboratory to observe, question, and test.
Speaking from my own personal experience, I have been meditating for nearly 2 years and have noticed a massive difference in my mental and emotional state of well-being.
Very recently I have also started to notice and appreciate the subtle nature of things, most noticeably in the trees and the sky. I find myself gazing up at the sky like I’m seeing the sky for the first time and noticing the incredible depth of the clouds like I’m looking at them in 3D.
I’m only just starting to understand what the Sutras mean by learning how to still the mind in order to notice the subtle nature of self and the world around you
These are observations from my own meditation experiments. Start or continue your meditation practice consistently for a sustained period and see the results for yourself. Experiment with your object of meditation; we are all different so find the one that works best for you.
Note from Eddie: A fantastic post from Abbie Robinson, thank you, Abbie! You can find her on her Instagram page declutterthemind.yoga.
Why not read about the best meditation podcasts next?