How the ancient yogic principle of dharana can help you focus better

If you’re struggling to focus at work or in your day-to-day life, the yogic principle of dharana – meaning concentration – could change all of that. 

We live in an era of constant distraction. Our modern-day lifestyles mean that attention is constantly being stolen from us – from the endless stream of notifications on our phones to constantly switching between tasks and tabs and spending hours scrolling on social media – it’s no wonder many of us may find it hard to concentrate. There’s a lot going on.

In fact, the results of a 2020 study showed that we have more than 6,000 thoughts a day, with many of us struggling to quiet the constant chatter in our minds. This is why the ancient yogic concept of dharana is more important than ever.  

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What exactly is the yogic principle of dharana?

Dharana translates to ‘focused concentration’. It’s the sixth limb of yoga, and it refers to the act of holding and maintaining focus on a single thing.

“The eight limbs of yoga refers to an eight-part path towards living an ideal yogic life,” Sarah Highfield, yoga teacher, writer and founder of Yogagise Yoga, explains. “They are referenced in the Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali, one of the most influential yoga texts attributed to Indian philosopher and sage Patanjali, and dates back over 1,500 years. Each limb is a step towards living a meaningful and healthy lifestyle, as well as achieving a higher state of consciousness.”

Dharana is closely linked to two other limbs: the fifth limb called pratyahara, which refers to the withdrawing of the senses, and the seventh limb called dhyana, which translates to ‘meditative absorption’. 

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Is dharana different from meditation?

“Dharana is different from meditation as it requires you to focus on a single object, breath, mantra or thought,” Highfield tells Stylist. “Meditation covers a much broader spectrum of exercises.” While meditation can include being focussed on the breath or a mantra, there are also other types such as progressive muscle relaxation and loving-kindness meditation.

“Dharana is often seen as a step towards good meditation practices, combined with the other limbs mentioned above, pratyahara and dhyana,” Highfield says. 

Dharana is different from meditation.

How dharana can improve our focus

We’ve probably all heard that multitasking is a myth: when we’re switching between two or more tasks, we may think that we’re getting lots done quickly and being really productive, but the truth is that the lack of focus on a specific task leaves us distracted and not performing well. It turns out that only 2% of people can juggle two tasks at once without their performance being negatively affected.

“Multitasking can only work well when you’re able to give your full focus to one thing – otherwise, there’s no point in multitasking because it’s not going to save you any time,” explains Dr Becky Spelman, psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic. 

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That’s why practising dharana can help you to focus better, particularly in work situations. “It trains your mind to focus on one thing only, as opposed to jumping from thought to thought or being in a state of constant distraction. As a result, you’ll be more attentive, informed, and productive,” says Highfield.  

How can we apply the ancient yogic principle of dharana to our daily lives?

There are many ways to integrate this ancient yogic principle into our everyday lives, but the important thing to remember is to not be hard on yourself. It takes a lot of patience and discipline to focus on a single thing, especially since we live in a society jam-packed with endless distractions designed to steal our attention.

As we begin to train our minds to focus on one thing at a time, periods of deep concentration and sustained focus will happen more naturally and frequently. 

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Try a candle gazing practice

One of the most popular dharana exercises is called trataka, a candle gazing practice that involves a practitioner lighting a candle and sitting in a comfortable position.

“The candle is placed about one metre in front of them and they softly focus on the flame,” says Highland. “After a few moments, the practitioner may close their eyes and continue to focus on the image of the flame in their mind. They will repeat both gazing at the flame and closing their eyes a few times before completing the exercise.”  

Trataka is a candle gazing practice that can help increase concentration.

This exercise is believed to increase your power of concentration and visualisation, which is a useful skill for further meditation, and it also helps to calm the mind and regulate heart rate, which is good for the body, Highland explains.

Master mono-tasking – the art of doing one thing at a time

How often do we eat our lunch at our desks while browsing the internet or watching Netflix? Or chat to people while simultaneously checking our phones? Or commute on public transport while listening to music or podcasts and reading our emails?

The next time you’re tempted to pull out your phone while eating, commuting or waiting in line, take a pause and try to focus on the task at hand or your current environment.

“By simply taking a moment to truly live in the moment, we will have richer, more satisfying, and more memorable experiences,” Highland suggests.  

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Change the way you consume the news

Most of us use the internet as our main news source, but Highfield points out that more often than not, we simply skim and scan articles and then quickly move on to the next, without really absorbing or understanding anything.

“By taking the time to read more in-depth articles, without the urge to move on so quickly, we will be better informed and knowledgeable on complex topics.” 

Images: Getty

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