Dharana, or concentration, is the sixth limb on the tree of yoga. Like Pratyahara, it is part of the “meditation triad” in the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Sense withdrawal and concentration are basically precursors to meditation. In order to meditate effectively, one must tune out outside stimuli (Pratyahara)and then concentrate on something in particular (Dharana). Neither is necessarily an easy task at first, but both become much easier with practice.
What’s wonderful about meditation is that you can choose what you want to concentrate on. Your breath! Sensation in your body! An image (of a deity, perhaps, or something else that’s meaningful to you)! An action (walking, yoga, mala beads)! Find something that you can really relax into, and then focus, focus, focus!
It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Meditators call it “monkey mind.” So if you lose your concentration, you haven’t failed. You’re just human! Meditation teaches us to improve our concentration by constantly returning to the subject upon which we intend to focus, going back to it again and again, each time the mind darts off to other topics.
Dharana can be very helpful during your yoga practice. Do you find yourself contemplating your pedicure while holding forward bends? Thinking about your grocery list while standing in warrior? Instead of letting yourself become distracted by everyday concerns, choose something to focus on while you practice. Again, it could be your breath, or the sensations you experience in your body while practicing. A mantra, perhaps, or an affirmation. Choose something on which you can concentrate with relative ease, and come back to it, again and again, when you catch yourself becoming distracted. Doing this will heighten the benefits of your yoga practice and bring you closer to the “meditation in motion” that makes yoga a transformative experience.