Why is Dhyana so important to the Yoga practice?


A/C |words by Sarah Picton, Stewart Gilchrist ELSY student

Written April 2020 as part of my 200hr YTT course, September 2019- September 2020

Over the last few weeks my focus has been directed to my meditation practice; the aim being to make this my primary method of research for the essay topic: “Why is Dhyana so important to the practice?”

Meditation or Dhyana (the seventh limb; “seventh stage of Yoga”-1) is a step beyond, a higher level up, from the sixth stage; Dharana, or concentration. [1-Tree of Yoga; Iyengar]

Patanjali’s eight limbed path of yoga is beautiful expressed in the analogy of yoga as a wheel (Iyengar]. What is a wheel? It’s a hub. A moving circle reliant on various parts to keep it operational; a whole given life thanks to not ONE but the many different and equally important parts. Like an orchestra! Each instrument, each sound, offers a new contribution — novel yet complimentary; individualistic yet in harmony with the whole. All unique, all in flow. The wheel of yoga brings to light, brings into focus, the reality of cause and effect in life; and of the powerful role each of us plays in keeping the wheel of humanity spinning.

The cause and effect relationship of the eight limbs of yoga supplements my understanding to discussions* on the science of yoga (*Iyengar, on yoga as a science); yoga as a progress-orientated, daily discipline…A discipline…A sequential path offering a moment-by-moment chance to grow, to act, to change for the better. This is Yoga Krama: step by step progression.

And with constant practice (abhyasa), I am discovering how meditation fits into yoga krama; learning that understanding is about putting away the books, and experiencing first hand philosophy in practice. Stripping away the outer layers of intellect and bias, something more intriguing has revealed itself. Witnessing the change in my mind, body, and soul–the key realisation being meditation is not something which occurs in isolation. It also is not something I can learn intellectually. It is not something to teach. Nor is it only one thing!

Occasionally, I’ve slipped into a deep state of concentration during my daily house chores — in chanting mantras, in self analysis, in seated and flowing asana. And this is the beating heart of Dhyana! Integration (Iyengar)! Like the wheel, like the orchestra–integration leads to creativity and action; innovation occurs when separate elements come together for a greater purpose.

“Meditation is integration,” writes Iyengar in the Tree of Yoga.

He continues to explain how yoga is split into three parts: yamas and niyamas make the first, asana, pranayama and pratyahara the second; and dharana, dhyana and samadhi the third (Iyengar, Tree of Yoga).

The second part involves effort (Iyengar) and comprises the second stage of yoga; the scientific approach (cause and effect) means, essentially, that asana is also an expression of meditation, and meditation is both an effect of concentration and also causes samadhi (total bliss).

Moving beyond the external, the third stage – all three parts (dharana, dhyana and samadhi) are the results, the fruit, of following the earlier steps along the path of yoga (Iyengar, Tree of Yoga).

Iyengar writes how Patanjali gave this third stage a distinct name; Samyama, or Total Integration, described as “Holding together, integration” (Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali).

Sutra 3.4 states “trayam ekatra samyamah” (Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), which translates as ‘these three together – dharana, dhyana, and samadhi – constitute integration or samyama’ (Iyengar).

And when dharana – this ‘single point of concentration’ (Iyengar) – evolves into a higher state, then dhyana is experienced.

Why is dhyana so vital to the practice?

Drawing from my research, my practice , there were moments when time and space were in concord; capturing brief interludes of stillness in fluidity.

This essay was about putting philosophy into practice; experimenting scientifically using different methods mentioned, for example, in “Teaching Yoga” by Mark Stephens, including light, Bij mantra, and counting breath; as well as the dynamic meditation of my asana practice (focusing attention on my dristhi, bandhas, sound and breath). The results showed as consistent and encouraging: each day revealed something new, or I saw (understood) another part to the Whole; to the Wheel of Yoga.

My takeaway from this experiment is closely linked to my yamas and niyamas, particularly Svadhyaya, my self study; and tapas (asana as well as daily chores which gave me a chance for repeating mantras; moments of stillness in concentration.)

Feeling a sense of mental malaise lately actually provided me with material to truly experience meditation; glimpses into why dhyana is so important to the practice.

The findings:

When I fully focus my attention on one task I emerge from the task completely refreshed; this is most true when in seated asana, and also chanting the Bij mantras while washing dishes. After sitting still for even just a few minutes, my mind feels energised; my body feels clean! And vice versa.

This might sound insignificant as words do not suffice. But I cannot express enough how liberating this is! How powerful! How fierce in the ability to heal and free my mind from emotional drainage.

After seated meditation, my mind feels as if it’s been given a big glass of cold water, my body breathing in waves of air!

The meditation practice is my water! It is my breath! Dhyana is both my current and my batteries. The result – whatever the method – is a surge of clean energy to my mind and body, and as a result my soul shines brighter.

When my mind or body is at their weakest, I (now) know this state is only temporary; by practicing the first two stages every day is essential to nurturing deeper awareness of samyama; and to discovering this stillness in a single pointed focus (whether this focus point is drishti, breath, mantra, or asana).

By channelling attention on a single point, my emotions and frustrations dissipate; temporarily, yes, but nonetheless this is liberating to experience.

This interlude from fear, this sanctuary, this in between space is like still water…like freedom in motion. And this is meditation. And it is everything!

Water is malleable, it flows, it surges – all before it finally comes to rest.

This is action in inaction.*(read updated note) Stillness in chaos. This is balance and this is what yoga is teaching me. *The only Inaction in Action is the inaction of the Ego (Bhagavad Gita, 4.18)

Dhyana is the water keeping my mind and body afloat when they are drowning. Dhyana is the key to opening the lens; seeing the wheel of yoga for what it really is: a journey of discovery, of action, of growth, of patience, of failing, and especially of getting back up. An opportunity to help!

I have learned the importance of practicing the lessons; and am thirsty to experience and explore more each day.

Key sources:

BKS Iyengar; Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Tree of Life. Mark Stephens, Teaching Yoga, Stewart Gilchrist, John Scott (Wheel of Yoga video particularly).

Welcome meditation, dhyana, into your sadhana (spiritual practice) with the following 8 minute video and then read my essay below…

Inspired by Bruce Lee.

One thought on “Why is Dhyana so important to the Yoga practice?

  1. Pingback: Video Spotlight: Standing Sq (Ashtanga Vinyasa Baby Series) – SarahClairePicton

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