Dhāranā - Focus
Let us have a look at the sixth limb of Yoga according to Maharishi Patanjali, which is dhāranā. From the more outward-oriented limbs we gradually move towards the inward-oriented limbs. The previous limbs up until pratyāhāra required some physical action and required some interaction with the external environment. Now that the senses are withdrawn, we gradually interact with the internal environment.
Our fictional character, Ben, tried meditating by himself at home for the first time. He had already experienced guided meditations during regular yoga classes. So, Ben sat down, closed his eyes for meditation and kept his body still for 10 minutes. He noticed that there were so many thoughts coming up in his mind...one after the other.
He started thinking of something he did the day before and then about his friend who he was with...then about this nice car his friend has... then he started fantasizing about which car he would like...then about how he would get the money to buy a car...then he would think about how horrible his boss at work is...etc, etc. Suddenly, his timer for 10 minutes went off. He then realized that he had wasted his time by being so caught up in his thoughts.
Frustrated that he didn’t experience meditation like he did during the guided meditations in class, he told his yoga teacher about his experience at home.
His teacher was happy that he had experienced so many thoughts. His teacher explained to him that it is the nature of the mind to jump from one thought to the other, just like a monkey jumping from one branch to the other. One small distraction and it jumps in that direction. In fact we train our minds to be like that. Whenever we are studying or doing some other work which requires concentration, we let the mind get distracted by a notification on our phone or someone passing by for a chat.
The way to deal with this monkey mind is to focus, to practice dhāranā. The practice of placing your full attention on a specific place either within the body or outside of the body is called dhāranā.
Usually during the initial part of guided meditations we are told to bring our attention to different parts of the body, the breath or even points in space outside of our body. This dhāranā causes the mind to become calmer and eventually leads to meditation, dhyāna.