Using Dharana to Cultivate a Healthy Mind


Dharana can be described as exercising intellectual control over your mind and emotions.  Swami Vivekanada said the mind was like “a drunken monkey”.  When we begin to meditate, and lose our focus, dharana is your reset. It is when you regain attention and your concentration. We employ dharana when trying to calm our mind from sensory impressions, and to prepare our mind for meditation or to focus on one object or idea. When you go through major setbacks in life,  how can you use dharana to heal and help you get back on track? How can you feel in control at all when you are riding the wave of life at a frantic pace? How do you find your center when you are hit with one obliterating wave after another?  How can we cultivate dharana to improve our meditation and our health?

March Came in Like a Lion

We lost the matriarch of our family on March 1st. Caring for a loved one through their final journey can be a humbling experience, one that can be emotionally overwhelming at times. Imagine the journey to death as a climb up a mountain, when your loved one reaches the summit, their transition occurs, and they ascend to merge with the Divine.  We wanted this journey to be as comforting as possible, so we called upon the guidance of Hospice to assist. These Earth angels were as skilled as any sherpa, helping us traverse the ascent, assisting with any pitfalls of discomfort along the way. Our loved one reached the peak of her journey and left her Earth bound body with a serene peacefulness.  As I began the descent down the mountain, I felt on autopilot. I was so numb, both physically and emotionally. My feet were moving down the mountain with a momentum that was not my own. I was riding an avalanche, my feet not able to connect with the ground. The flurry of arrangements and planning rolled me down that mountain, until one day the frantic pace slowed to a stop. The whirlwind of activity had ceased. I was off the mountain, but I was helplessly sliding in a valley of grief. I had been pushing down emotions and feelings.  I had unknowingly been sinking down in despair, as if it was quicksand, rendering me unable to move, my feet stuck in the mud. Unable to shift my focus onto myself, and acknowledge my emotions, I continued to sink deeper. Each personal want and desire felt guilty, and I was feeling powerless to move, crippled by inactivity and disconnectedness.  Until quite literally, everything came crashing down.


It was a day that started with an ominous feeling. One, where you just can’t shake the feeling that something was off, but you were powerless to stop it.  My husband and I were feeling emotionally run down. Drained from the enormity of losing our loved one, we were looking forward to a little escape to a hockey game. We thought we were so fortunate to have rink-side seats! Shaking off the ill-feeling, we settled in to enjoy the game.

Suddenly a player was checked into the glass in front of us. The collision of the two players caused an explosion of glass that showered down on us. We were stunned. It was a surreal moment of time. We sat there thinking, did that really just happen?! Noticing my husband was bleeding, my focus was instantly on him. Jagged glass pierced across my boot, but I was so out of touch with my own body, that I didn’t even realize that I was hurt. See it all go down here.

 Goes Out Like a Lamb

After weeks of feeling stuck in grief, I find it ironic that  a foot injury had propelled me to regain my control.  I was moving forward with  my own momentum and healing, which I found through dharana.  I found myself back on my mat, focusing on my breath, repeating my mantra with the slow inhalations and exhalations again and again. Tuning in and bringing my attention to my body, being aware of the tension in the muscle. Finding the point of resistance and breathing through the defiance. Through my yoga practice, I  allowed myself to be vulnerable,  acknowledging my feelings of grief .  Using dharana, or focus to pinpoint my physical and emotional pain, I could finally identify and  release my pain and feel a sense of relief.

Grounding Yourself

Finding motivation to get back on your mat, or even starting a yoga practice can be daunting, especially when life seems overwhelming.  If you are having trouble working through your emotional or physical pain, seek a qualified yoga instructor or yoga therapist. Here is sage advise from my own acharya, Ganga Devi to help you to beat resistence and get back onto your yogic path.

As you find yourself tossed in the waves of the ups and downs of life, let your mat be your beacon of light, your life preserver. Your vessel to bring you calmly back to shore.


You have taken this physical body only to achieve concentration and through concentration to realise the Self.

Swami Sivananda

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