Step-by-Step Concentration in Yoga Practice and Why it Matters. Conceptualization and practice of concentration in yoga exercises are possible only for those who are endowed with a higher order of mental life, shine with intellectual superiority and are supported by spiritual power.
In the Vedas, the basic principles of yoga were expressed in a language we might call spiritual language, which is difficult to understand by those who are not specifically taught by gurus. In the post-Vedic period, there was an attempt to remove the mask and present yoga in a more understandable way.
The secret of remaining motionless in the dynamic world of thought has been revealed in yoga. The final stage of spiritual union is achieved when a yogi reaches the stage of non-mindfulness, which in yogic terminology is called supreme concentration (asamprajñāta samādhi).
In asamprajnata samadhi there is a complete abolition of all the vṛittis (the molding of consciousness as an object, whether internal or external). The Agni-purāṇa states that yoga, which is a spiritual union, is attained when the vrittis are completely eliminated. This definition of yoga, which originated in the Vedic period, remained unchanged in the post-Vedic period and was accepted by yogis of all ages.
Patanjali’s definition of yoga is essentially based on the above-mentioned older concept of yoga, but expressed in a language in which the concentration factor is more clearly defined.
“Yoga is the state in which the mind ceases to function as vṛittis.”— Patanjali Yoga-sutras
Step-by-step concentration in Yoga
In the normal state of existence, consciousness is constantly being molded into objects based on a sensory pattern.
Molding is affected either directly through the senses of perception, the jñanindriyas, by the application of knowledge of relation (inference), through spoken or written statements (direct or indirect communication), with certain ideas expressed in words. From the development of, without accompaniment. Objects in reality (higher thinking), through misrepresentation by the senses (misperception), or by the reproduction of previously known objects (memory).
Usually, moldings are of mixed character. This is the state of the instincts of the mind. It is the state of vṛittis of the mind, a form in which it is recognized as such.
The extra-vṛitti state of the mind is typically unknown. It is only in sleep that the conscious principle ceases to function; Then there is no manifestation of consciousness, nor is it molded into its various forms. This coiling of consciousness is one aspect of the mind in which other forms of molding potentially reside. Or, in other words, the non-expression of consciousness is the grand latent period of the state of mind.
We can therefore divide the state of mind into two parts: the latent state in which the activities of the mind cease to recover the energy needed to maintain the active state, and the active state in which conscious activities manifest.
Elimination of both latent and active states of mind is essential for the attainment of yoga, this elimination is called nirodha.
Sensory Control (Pratyahara)
The jñanindriyas (the sense organs) are the capacities of the mind for smell, taste, color and forms, tactile sensations and the associated perception of sound. These are the five common patterns of knowing external objects. When they function at a normal level, they act through physical organs, called external sense organs.
The five sensory senses (speech, prehension, locomotion, organic activities, and reproduction) are called the karmendriyas.
The sensations or impressions of an infinite number of external objects are continuously being received through the gates of the senses. These sensations are manifold and non-specific in character. This non-specificity is then transformed by the power of the mind into a specific cognition called the manas, through the actions of attention, selection, and synthesis.
When the manas are controlled, the other five faculties do not operate and are separated from the external senses. This sense-withdrawal creates a sensory void. Through this process, known as pratyahara (sensory control), the formation of sensory images in the mind is prevented, thus creating a mental state most suitable for concentration.
Elementary Concentration (Dharana)
The elimination of vrittis is the highest state of concentration, which can be achieved only by a systematic method. The specialty of the mind is that it takes a picture and holds it for a short time. Then he drops that image and takes another, and then another, and so on.
Usually, the mind tries to take different images one after the other, without retaining any for a long time. The process in which the mind is educated to take a chosen image and refresh it repeatedly at frequent intervals without taking up a new one, is called Dharana (Elementary concentration).
The concept of Dharana is similar to that of dropping a drop of water one-by-one from a vessel full of water. When a chosen image appears in the mind again and again in the same way, it is called Dharana (Elementary concentration).
Mantra Japa (chanting) is an easy way to develop the Dharana. The mantra is the “sound pattern of power”, which manifests itself as mind and matter. With the help of mantra we can reach that power level which is beyond the material level of manifest mind, and at that level Shakti (power) manifests itself as radiant energy gradually transforming into inner consciousness.
Japa (chanting) is a technical term meaning “the production of a particular manifested sound form presented by one mantra, one after the other, in a particular form and at specified intervals”, which continues until a certain number of times are elapsed.
Dharana can be mastered comparatively easily with the help of mantra. When the mantra is chanted mentally, the mind gets molded into a new image made up of two parts, form and sound. The first image remains in the mind during the period of chanting the mantra. Then there’s a brief interval—a zero—before saying it a second time. In this way, the chanting of the mantra goes on with a short interval in between.
The function of the mantra is arranged in such a way that this void period is precisely adjusted in the intervening period, i.e., the period between taking out an image and taking up a new one by the mind. In this way, with the help of mantra, Dharana is attained. This process is fully described in Mantra Yoga.
The mind operating at the external level is capable of acquiring knowledge of external objects through the senses without ordinary means. At higher levels of concentration, knowledge can be acquired pre- and sub-sensibly.
Unbroken Concentration (Dhyana)
The next stage of concentration is Dhyana (unbroken concentration). When the interrupted flow of an image (Dharaa) gets converted into a continuous flow of that image, it is called Dhyana.
Again, take the example of water falling as it is released drop-by-drop from a vessel full of water. If the control mechanism is removed, the flow of water will be continuous in a stream, rather than falling in droplets, without interruption. The Dhyana develops in meditation. Here the image is continuous. Now the mind has been educated not to throw away a particular image but to maintain it.
Super Concentration with Super Knowledge (Samprajnata Samadhi)
Dhyana ripens in Samadhi, the final stage of the process of concentration. Samadhi is again divided into Samprajnata and Asamprajnata.
Samprajnata is that form of samadhi in which the four forms of object are attained step-by-step:
- Vitarka (thoughts, or deliberation)
- Vicara (reflection)
- Ananda (joy, or bliss)
- Asmita (pure I-feeling)
1. Vitarka Samadhi
The image of a physical object is the result of the combined actions of the senses operating through the senses. All of our senses work together, although each of them plays a specific role. The result of their combined work is the knowledge of a particular object, which is a compound of the five fundamental forms of non-material energy. Of course, not all objects have these energies in the same proportion. This is the reason for the difference in objects.
In a normal state, it is not possible to separate one form of energy from the rest, as they occur in compound forms. The power of separation develops in the state of Vitarka Samadhi.
In this state, we can “know” a particular form of energy as separate from the rest. When one form of energy is completely separated from the other four and “seen”, a new form of knowledge appears, revealing an unknown aspect of the physical object: the “essential”, known as Mahabhuta, that constitutes the particular form of a sense object. It gives a completely different perspective on the outside world. The composite image of an object disappears, and is instead a newly developed isolated “image” of only the principal essential floats. It is a predictable type of knowledge of a sense object.
In the state of Vitarka samadhi, the mixed form, that is, the image of a sense object, vanishes and the separate form of a particular necessity appears. In this state the whole world appears as if it is made up of only one particular essential thing.
2. Vicara Samadhi
The essential thing that makes up the sense object can be reduced to an even better “form” in the shape of the most concentrated force, expressed as the “thatness” or tanmatra of that essential. The Tanmatras, like the Mahabhutas, are five. The perception disorder of tanmatras occurs in Vicara Samadhi. In this state, the distinguishing feature of an essential is lost.
When in Vitarka Samadhi the image of a particular essential is concentrated, it will appear in place of the image of a sense object and will appear as vast. Now, if the concentration is applied to a small part of the vast essential, that too will appear equally vast. Then the practice of concentration should be done on that subtle part which appears vast, and this subtle part will again appear as vast. In this way, repeated applications of concentration will lead to a state when the power to attain the best state of essential – ““thatness” – will be fully developed. It is the stage of Vicara Samadhi.
There are two stages in the realization attained in Vitarka and Vicara Samadhi. The phenomenon felt in the first stage can be brought to the intellectual level and expressed through words. The event realized in the last stage cannot be given an intellectual form, and consequently it remains beyond language. The first stage of Vitarka and Vicara are called Savitarka and Savicara, respectively, and the last stage is called Nirvitarka and Nirvicara, respectively.
3. Ananda Samadhi
At this stage of Samadhi, the mind is able to go beyond pain and pleasure phenomena. Now the senses become actionless and the power of the mind related to them calms down. A yogi can successfully practice Ananda Samadhi when his mind is capable of going into the state of Ultra-tanmatra.
In this Samadhi, a divine being is attained through the most intense and concentrated flow of sublime love. It is inseparably associated with pleasure or bliss, without any pain or sorrow (calamity). This is the state of Ananda Samadhi.
4. Asmita Samadhi
In this state, a realization of “I”-less consciousness happens. The “I” ness associated with objects disappears, and with it the images of all things disappear altogether. All that is left now is the de-individualized consciousness. This is the final stage of Samprajnata Samadhi.
The final stage of concentration is Asamprajnata Samadhi.
In this stage, the de-individualized consciousness merges with the Supreme Consciousness. Consciousness, as it is known, is an inseparable aspect of the mind. It is the normal state of human existence, which gives rise to a dualistic experience. This is the knowledge of the “known”.
By systematic practice of the processes of concentration, the mind ascends from the state of Vritti to the additional Vritti state. In the final stage, that is, in the stage of Asamprajnata Samadhi, there is complete abolition of the vrittis happens.
This is the stage of yoga—the realization of the Unknown, the attainment of the Supreme Consciousness, which is actually a realization beyond perception.
Now we have a clear picture of the whole process of concentration in yoga, it consists of the four core exercises already mentioned:
- Pratyahara (Sensory Control)
- Dharana (Elementary Concentration)
- Dhyana (Unbroken Concentration)
- Samadhi (Super Concentration)
Samadhi is again divided into Samprajnata (Super Concentration with super knowledge) and Asamprajnata (Supreme Concentration).
Concentration exercises are a higher form of yoga exercises; They form the most important part of Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold Yoga), the earliest systematic form, as well as Mantra, Laya, Hatha and Raja Yoga.
Concentration exercises are fully developed in Raja Yoga, with the four stages:
Raja Yoga has also shown that Samprajnata can eventually be developed into Asamprajnata, the final stage of Samadhi. It is the main feature of Raja Yoga.
The other three major forms of yoga, listed below, lead only to Samprajnata Samadhi:
Motionless Attitude of the Body
Concentration demands that the entire body is kept motionless. Deep concentration is incompatible with the body in motion. This is the beginning of what is called Asana (Posture or Pose) in yoga.
Asana, as defined by Patanjali, is an approach in which the body can be kept motionless but at the same time creates a feeling of ease. For the practice of concentration, one has to maintain the motionless instinct of the body.
Motionless Attitude with Folded Legs and Trunk Erect Posture
Folded Legs Posture
One of the main features of the pose is the folded (bent) leg.
Running represents the most intense type of human activity. Motion is intensified in speed, and speed is best expressed in running. The function of motion is mainly performed by the leg muscles. Therefore, the legs are instruments of intense activity. The energy of the moving body is manifested through the feet in the form of extreme motion. All the vital organs of the body—respiratory, circulatory, glandular and nervous—participate and cooperate with the muscular system.1
In a word, the entire body functions in a specific way to support the action performed by the leg. It is very important for physical life, as these activities are associated with the development of vitality and organic strength. But this position of the body is not suitable when the mind is in the state of contemplation.
For deep concentration, we need to control the tendency of the body towards such intense action.
In yoga, efforts have been made to prevent the escape of energy that manifests as intense activity as much as possible. It fosters the capacity for willingness to fully cooperate with mental concentration by voluntarily deactivating the instruments of this intense action. It is most successfully effected by holding a folded (bent) leg posture.
Therefore, in yoga the sedentary posture with folded legs is considered the most suitable posture for concentration, and experience shows that this is so.
Another important feature of the asana is keeping the trunk erect (straight). The importance of the standing posture during concentration was realized very early, and it became an essential part of the asana.
In this new human condition, the brain and muscles can cooperate to support concentration. A highly developed mental life and brain development are closely related to an erect posture, with which the function of the fundamental musculature is associated.
In addition to flexing the legs, the arm—the apparatus for performing complex movements and exhibiting strength—is also made motionless. Their motionlessness and relaxation further help in concentration. This is accomplished by assuming the meditation mudra (dhyana mudra), in which the hands are placed on top of each other, palms facing up, in the center of the body, or by assuming the Jnana Mudra, in which the hands are outstretched, and the hands are placed on the knees with the index finger and the thumb touching each other.
Just as a folded-leg, erect trunk, a motionless instinct is to be maintained for a long time for the practice of concentration, it should also be easy. The earliest pattern of the motionless bent leg pose is called Sukhasana (Pleasant Posture), in which the bent right leg is placed on the bent left leg.
The word Sukha, found in the Rigveda, means “easy.” The folded legs pose, which has been called the Sukhasana, is the easiest of all the postures. It evolved into the Svastikasana (Auspicious Posture), in which the right foot is inserted into the space between the left thigh and leg and the left foot is inserted into the space between the right thigh and shank.
The next stage of development is known as Siddhasana (Accomplished Posture), in which the left heel is against the perineum and the right heel against the pubic bone just above the genitals. Samasana (Balance Pose or Even Pose) is the result of the modification of Svastikasana and Siddhasana.
- Asana – Hatha Yoga Exercise: Excerpt from Advanced Hatha Yoga (Inner Traditions) by Sri S. S. Goswami