yoga theme inspiration


blog post written by Eliza Skye

Concentration is the root of all the higher abilities in man.
— Bruce Lee

Dharana is one of Pantanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, and it roughly translates to “concentration”, “single focus” or “holding steady”. Dharana is the first step into deep meditation, and a process that we all must practice consistently in order to find moments of meditative bliss. When one practices dharana, there is a consciousness who is able to watch the thoughts and remain separate from them. Eventually, this will evolve into a higher practice in which consciousness, thoughts and the witness all blend into a stream of singularity. 

Dharana informs our hatha yoga practice in a couple distinct ways. First, we use concentration in the physical act of yoga. Balancing becomes much more accessible when the yoga practitioner is able to focus and hold steady on a single thought. Next time you are wobbling out of a balancing pose, check in with the thoughts. Are they wandering, as they tend to without guidance? See if you can hold steady on one thought, or even the breath, and you will likely find balance to be much more accessible. 

Another way that dharana informs the practice of hatha yoga is that we see a similar evolution of practice cultivating the fruits of what we seek. In hatha yoga, perhaps you are seeking a handstand (one of the most common yoga “dream poses” that I personally hear from my students). Hopefully, your teacher is introducing you to steps along the way toward a handstand. We don’t suddenly emerge into a handstand - it takes steady practice and focus. The same can be said about meditation. Though the Beginner’s Mind is a very real phenomenon, typically one does not simply sit down on a cushion and enter into a state of ananda, or bliss. Often, one must hold steady to an image, a mantra or the sound of the breath and use that as a channel toward the experience of nonduality. 

This concept is on one hand so simple, but when we take into account the intricacies and deeply ingrained patterns of the mind, it becomes rather tough. My guru, Swami Satchidananda, wrote about the realities of dharana (in this example, the point of focus is a rose): 

“As you look at the rose, the mind will try to go somewhere. The minute you begin, the mind will say, ‘Ah, yes, I remember she sent me a rose like that for my last birthday.’… And then, ‘After that we had dinner. Ah, it was the best dinner. Then we went to the movies. What was that movie? King Kong?’ It will all happen within two minutes. Even less than two minutes. So, on what are you meditating now? Not on a rose, but on King Kong.”

Dharana is the act of noticing where the mind went and gently, consistently, bringing it back to the image of the rose, over and over until the mind can learn to settle. Satchidananda can offer advice on this piece as well:

“This very practice itself is called concentration: the mind running, your bringing it back; its running, your bringing it back. You are taming a monkey. Once it’s tamed, it will just listen to you. You will be able to say, ‘Okay, sit there quietly.’ And it will. At that point you are meditating. Until then you are training yourself to meditate. Training your mind to meditate is what is called dharana.”

My hope is that, in introducing dharana to the yoga studio that we can create a community of people who practice this limb of yoga in their own lives. Then, we can share our experiences and advice with others who have the same pursuits. Then we are lifting each other up, helping to unify our experience of seeking the light. 

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)

This standing balance is a combination of many challenging aspects of yoga. In all standing balancing poses, core and leg strength are key for a steady asana. Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is especially challenging because, in addition to those two elements, open hamstrings are essential. However, even if the hamstrings are not open, there are many ways to modify Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. The leg in the air, for example, does not have to keep the knee perfectly straight. This pose was chosen to complement the practice of concentration because steady focus is key for this balance. Practicing this pose with present awareness can open you up to the true power of the breath in hatha yoga. Focus on the breath leads to a steadiness that allows you to explore the depth of your own flexibility. In addition to cultivating concentration and leg flexibility, this pose strengthens the core, legs and ankles. All of these benefits can be experienced if you choose to practice this pose with the support of a wall, and you can also alleviate some of the leg work by taking this pose while lying on the back. 


Blog post written by Eliza Skye

Action only happens in the present, because it is an expression of the body, which can only exist in the here and now. But the mind is like a phantom that lives only in the past and the future. Its only power over you is to draw your attention out of the present.
— Dan Millman

Many of us come to yoga to practice staying present. Teachers help facilitate this by offering continuous reminders to return to the present moment. Where are we returning from, and why do we go there so often? It is so simple to fall into the mental state of dwelling on past actions, analyzing them with ferocity and finding new interpretations of what was said or done. The mind has an equal draw to living in the future, imagining conversations that may happen or how an event has the potential to go wrong. Between the past and the future is the very fleeting present moment. As soon as we identify what is present, it has already become the past, and that is the paradox we must learn to accept. 

To live in a way that is fully grounded in the present moment, we must learn to face discomfort when it arises. It may be tempting to flee from what we don’t necessarily see as a pleasant person, conversation or life experience. However, after practice, you may begin to notice that events no longer fit into tidy categories of “pleasant” and “unpleasant”. Addressing work as it arises become a part of the moment, and with perspective, it is easier to accept challenges as a necessary part of the path that serves you most.

Living with presence means absorbing the world around you with a wide open heart. It means seeing exactly what is in front of you with clarity and non-judgement. To judge means that you are inherently comparing with the past or the future. Presence is fullness – beyond good and bad, beyond right and wrong. Presence is acceptance that all of what we experience simply is. Sometimes, this is beyond comprehension when we have so many expectations and preconceptions that we carry with us at all times. It takes constant, steady practice to overcome this conditioning and simply be with whatever life brings. 

Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

The battle of the spiritual warrior is one that takes place far beyond the physical realm. The warrior does not have to be an archetype of violence. The warrior does not have to hurt anybody in order to accomplish what she has set out for in this lifetime. The weapon of the spiritual warrior is discernment, or viveka in Sanskrit. The warrior must use this discernment decide what is based in reality and what is an illusion of the ego. Living with presence allows the warrior to see what is truth and what is a creation of the mind and its many desires. The mind wants to thrive, and its fuel is analysis of the past or fantasies of what may come.

Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, help tame this wild nature of the mind. With enough practice, the warrior learns how to use the mind to cultivate viveka. When we learn to live with full presence, the True Self is revealed to us. Warrior II honors the spiritual warrior who lives within all of us. It is a greatly strengthening pose, with the practitioner firmly grounded on both feet, arms extended in both directions. It opens the hips and shoulders, while strengthening the core, arms and legs. Gazing forward, one can visualize the many illusions of the mind that she must pierce through so she may live with intention and presence. 

Hakini Mudra

This is also known as the Brain Power Mudra, as it greatly enhances the ability of the brain. The Sanksrit word hakini means “power” or “rule”. Due to the positioning of the hands, this mudra helps to balance the left and right sides of the brain. This balancing of the hemispheres of the brain is especially helpful if you have something in mind that you would like to bring more presence and concentration toward. To practice this mudra, bring both hands in front of the third eye and join all of the fingertips very lightly together. The thumbs can point downward, while the rest of the fingers extend upward. You can further enhance presence by incorporating breathing into the practice of this mudra. While inhaling, press the tongue against the roof of the mouth, and then soften the tongue on the exhale. In addition to the balancing effects, Hakini Mudra also helps to improve concentration and memory, and create a sense of calmness, which helps promote clear thinking. Focusing the mind, bring your awareness to the present and allow all of the information that you gather permeate your being.