Dharana, concentration, is the sixth limb of Patanjali’s yoga. It’s sort of a precursor to Dhyana, meditation, which, in turn, is a precursor to Samadhi, the culmination of yoga. At least, that’s my understanding. A lot of what is called meditation out there is concentration practices, focusing on a mantra or the breath for example, to still the mind. Anyway, lately, I’ve found myself using the ashtanga tristana, or (1) mula bandha/(2) dristi/(3) uijai breathing, all jumbled together, as a focus point for a concentration meditation practice. I first wrote about stumbling on this here. Basically, instead of sitting zazen, or sitting at all, to meditate, I’m doing all these crazy asana, but the asana is secondary to the concentration.
I think I may, in this way, have accidentally become someone who meditates.
The seeds of this approach started last summer at David Williams’ workshop. He talked a lot about the supremacy of the “invisibles” that is, breath and bandhas. He also talked about making the goal doing the practice every day for the rest of your life, rather than on achieving a difficult asana. Asana was way down on his list of priorities. He also said, “Do your practice like it is half yoga, half tai chi,” emphasizing making the practice itself pleasurable at partial effort, partly to avoid injury, partly to encourage you to get on the mat every day. It’s a lot easier to unroll the manduka when you know it’s going to feel good.
So for me, nearly two years into this yoga experiment, I now know the Primary without thinking about it, and have a found a variation of every pose that I can do with mild effort and in a pleasurable way. And lately, the practice is running through this series of asana in the background while I focus my chattering, insano, mind on the tristana.
This is probably totally obvious to most ashtangis. Sorry. I’m slow.
And let me say right now: I totally suck at this. I haul my wandering thoughts back from wherever a gazillion times every Primary, trying to rest them on the bandha/sound of my breathing combo, but ricocheting off into space every other breath or two. Which makes my practice really hard, mentally hard. The biggest challenge of doing a whole freaking Primary has become what is in my head. Yeah, I’m tired, my muscles sort of shake at the end, but that’s nothing compared to the work of concentration. Who knew?
And look, sometimes I hate it. Concentration sucks! I get really annoyed, irrationally mad, like, “Hey, I want to think about stuff! I like thinking about stuff! I’m good at thinking about stuff! I’m going to daydream about my novel right now so bugger off you tristana you!”
Other times it’s okay, a humming along blank mind thing. Although I haven’t hit the Big Silence again. I remain hopeful. I’ve gotten there twice. I’ll get there again. But I can’t say that I do this weird mind-practice thing because it’s fun. Honestly, I don’t know why the hell I’m doing it. It just seems to be what I do now when I get on the mat.
Is this how real practice is? It finds you, sneaks up on you, and wrestles you to the ground?