Unlocking the Door of Meditation
The Progressive Path: Transitioning from Concentration to Meditation in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras - By Tracy King
Reading time: 7 minutes
In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a classical text on yoga philosophy, there are eight limbs or components of yoga known as Ashtanga Yoga. These eight limbs are guidelines that help individuals on the path of self-realisation and spiritual growth. Within the eight limbs, the concepts of concentration and meditation are distinct but interconnected.
- Concentration (Dharana): Dharana, the sixth limb of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, refers to the practice of focusing the mind on a single point or object. It involves directing and sustaining attention to develop mental stability and control. The aim of Dharana is to cultivate the ability to concentrate deeply, free from distractions or wandering thoughts. It is the precursor to meditation.
- Meditation (Dhyana): Dhyana, the seventh limb of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is a state of uninterrupted flow of awareness and mindfulness. It is the prolonged and effortless continuation of focused concentration. In Dhyana, the practitioner enters a state of deep absorption and tranquility, where the meditator and the object of meditation merge into a unified experience. It is a state of pure awareness, devoid of any individual ego or self-consciousness. It’s a stepping outside of the self and yet merging with the self, an all-encompassing state
While concentration (Dharana) is the practice of focusing the mind on a single object, meditation (Dhyana) is the state of sustained and effortless concentration. Dharana helps to develop the necessary stability and control of the mind, while Dhyana takes that concentrated state to a deeper level of absorption and unity.
It's important to note that these two aspects of concentration and meditation are progressive and interconnected. As one progresses in their practice of concentration, they naturally move towards the state of meditation. Concentration serves as a stepping-stone to meditation, and meditation deepens and refines concentration. Visually you could imagine they are like the infinity symbol of the sideways figure eight linking and flowing between each other, no one place is the beginning or end.
Ultimately, the goal of both Dharana and Dhyana is to prepare the mind for the final limb of yoga, which is Samadhi (a state of self-realisation, transcendent awareness, and union with the object of meditation or the universal consciousness).
According to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the transition from Dharana to Dhyana is a natural progression that happens as the practitioner deepens their concentration practice. It is an experiential shift that occurs rather than a clear-cut moment that can be objectively identified. Here are some general indicators that suggest you may have moved from Dharana to Dhyana:
- Effortless Focus: During Dharana, you exert effort to maintain your focus on the chosen object or point of concentration. In Dhyana, the concentration becomes effortless and spontaneous. The mind remains absorbed in the object of meditation without any struggle or active effort to sustain it.
- Unity of Experience: In Dhyana, the separation between the meditator and the object of meditation begins to dissolve. There is a sense of merging or unity between the observer and the observed. The boundaries between the self and the object of meditation become less distinct, and there is a feeling of interconnectedness or oneness.
- Deepening Stillness: As you transition from Dharana to Dhyana, you may notice an increasing stillness and quietness of the mind. The fluctuations and distractions of thoughts become less prominent, and there is a sense of inner calm and tranquility. The mind becomes more focused and absorbed, leading to a heightened sense of inner peace.
- Prolonged Flow of Awareness: Dhyana involves a sustained flow of awareness on the object of meditation. You may experience a continuous stream of focused attention, where the mind remains fixed on the chosen point of concentration for an extended period without interruption. The continuity of awareness deepens as you enter a state of absorption.
- Transcendence of Ego: In Dhyana, there is a transcendence of the individual ego or self-consciousness. The meditator becomes less identified with personal thoughts, emotions, and distractions. There is a sense of expanded awareness and a shift from a limited self-centered perspective to a broader, more inclusive consciousness.
If we were to externally measure brain waves of these states of being we find that when in Dharana and Dhyana, the brain wave patterns tend to shift towards more calm and focused states. While it is challenging to pinpoint specific brain wave frequencies associated with these states, scientific research on meditation and concentration practices suggests that certain brain wave patterns are commonly observed. Here are the general brain wave states associated with Dharana and Dhyana:
- Dharana: During Dharana, which is the practice of concentration, the brain waves tend to move towards the upper end of the alpha range (8-12 Hz). Alpha waves are associated with relaxed and wakeful states of mind. This is a state of focused attention where the mind is relatively calm and receptive.
- Dhyana: As you progress from Dharana to Dhyana, the brain wave patterns may shift further into the lower end of the alpha range and into the theta range (4-8 Hz). Theta waves are associated with deep relaxation, heightened creativity, and states of meditation. In Dhyana, the mind enters a state of profound stillness, where theta waves may become more predominant.
It's important to note that the brain wave patterns are not fixed or limited to specific frequencies during these states. Individual experiences can vary, and different brain wave patterns may be observed depending on factors such as meditation technique, individual differences, and level of mastery in the practice.
It is also worth mentioning that the correlation between specific brain wave frequencies and subjective states of consciousness is an active area of research, and more studies are needed to fully understand the complex relationship between brain activity and the deep states of concentration and meditation described in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
People often worry that they cannot remain in states of focused concentration or meditation for long enough. However, coming in and out of meditation and concentration practice can offer several benefits:
- Mindfulness in Daily Life: Regularly transitioning between meditation and daily activities helps cultivate mindfulness throughout the day. By bringing the meditative state into everyday tasks, you can develop a heightened awareness and presence in each moment. This can lead to increased clarity, focus, and appreciation for the present moment.
- Integration of Insights: Moving in and out of meditation allows for the integration of insights and experiences gained during periods of focused concentration. It provides an opportunity to reflect on and incorporate those insights into daily life, fostering personal growth and transformation.
- Rest and Rejuvenation: Shifting between periods of intense concentration and relaxation helps prevent mental fatigue and burnout. Taking breaks from focused practice allows the mind to rest and rejuvenate, promoting overall well-being and preventing exhaustion.
- Flexibility and Adaptability: The ability to move fluidly between states of concentration and non-concentration enhances flexibility and adaptability in various life situations. It helps develop a balance between focused effort and relaxed awareness, allowing for greater resilience and adaptability in the face of challenges.
- Insight into the Mind: Coming in and out of meditation and concentration practices provides an opportunity to observe the workings of the mind. You can notice patterns of distraction, mental tendencies, and the quality of your concentration. This self-awareness can help deepen your practice and facilitate personal growth.
- Cultivating Balance: Alternating between periods of intense focus and relaxation supports a balanced approach to practice. It helps avoid becoming overly attached or obsessed with concentration, while also preventing complacency or lack of discipline. Balancing these states fosters a harmonious and sustainable practice.
Remember that the specific benefits may vary for each individual, and it's important to listen to your own needs and adapt your practice accordingly. Regular practice and self-observation will provide insight into the unique benefits that coming in and out of meditation and concentration offer you personally. These experiences of transitioning from Dharana to Dhyana can vary from person to person. It is a subtle and subjective process that unfolds gradually with consistent practice, patience, and inner exploration. Regular meditation practice, under the guidance of an experienced teacher, can help deepen your understanding and facilitate the transition from concentration to meditation.