A foundational principle of yoga is that by becoming more self-aware we will heal, realize our essential wholeness, and live in ways that support that wholeness. Yoga therapy is a process for this transformation, and it starts with learning to pay attention in specific and subtle ways.
Under normal circumstances, our attention is often scattered and haphazard. Our untrained perceptions are biased by our conditioning—past experiences, values, attitudes, beliefs, goals, and more. We also direct our attention to the world outside of ourselves, leading us away from self-realization and causing suffering.
Increasing awareness through yoga starts with paying attention. For most people this begins with asana, the physical postures, where we start to notice more about our bodies through the movements. Pranayama, breathing practices, require our attention to focus on the breath and to find moments of stillness and quiet. Both the physical and breathing practices prepare us for meditation.
The first stage of meditation in yoga is pratyahara, usually translated as the withdrawal of the senses. As we direct attention away from the outside world and narrow its scope our awareness becomes more subtle.
Dharana, the next step, is focusing on one object with steadiness. The “object” can be the breath, a candle flame, a mantra—something simple but with significance. As you practice dharana, you become aware of something about yourself that is constant and unchanging—in yoga we often call this aspect of ourselves the inner witness.
In the next stage, dhyana, frequently translated as absorption, the distinction between yourself and the act of meditating merges. Eventually there is only you—the meditator or witness—and the object of meditation. Tuning in to the eternal present moment dissolves fear and anxiety, both of which require a sense of past and future. Becoming aware in this way has profound effects, yet as with any subjective experience, words are insufficient and experience is necessary for understanding. The final stage of meditation in yoga is called samadhi.
Rita Casadio, 21 may 2023