Yoga off the Mat: Concentration

This is the second part of my Yoga off the Mat series. Read part one, Yoga off the Mat: Contemplation here.

In today’s post, I’ll be sharing some ideas and practices written about in 1.19 to 1.51 of Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

Patanjali writes that there are two kinds of aspirants in the world, those who have made tremendous advancement in previous lives and others who have not and must follow five types of effort or commitment. Don’t worry, most of us are in the second category!

Five types of effort

The types of effort and commitment or attitudes are:

  • Faith you are going in the right direction
  • Committing the energy to go there
  • Cultivating memory and mindfulness
  • Seeking the states of Samadhi
  • Pursuing the higher wisdom

If you’re here, reading this post, chances are you’ve already committed to one or more of these attitudes. As with all things, there are different level of commitment to a practice. And Patanjali gets specific when outlining these and they range between having mild practice with mild conviction, all the way to having intense practice with intense conviction, and all areas in between.

For those with intense practices and intense conviction, there are three more subclasses of practice:

  • Mild
  • Medium
  • Intense

For most of us on the yogic path to mastery of the mind’s fluctuations, these categories or divisions make it crystal clear that there are levels of practice and we can move between them. While in some seasons of our lives we might be intense in practice and conviction, in other seasons life will push and pull at us meaning we don’t have the same commitment. However, there is nothing to say that we won’t be there again. This is a practice of a lifetime!

Travelling through OM

If you’ve practised at my studio Essence of Living, or with me elsewhere, you will know practice always opens with a chant of OM. While on a surface level this acts as a signpost signalling the beginning and end of the practice and a way to join the class together in community, the OM is so much more than this.

In fact, the sound vibration of OM (or AUM) is like a shortcut, which takes us directly to the heart of the practice. The vibration has the ability to remove the obstacles which normally block our path to self-realisation.

OM represents pure consciousness, and for it to have the piercing effect you must chant with deep feeling and full knowledge of its meaning.

Jumping hurdles

I mentioned above that there are obstacles on our path, and I’m sure that comes as no surprise to you, dear reader. There is comfort to be drawn from knowing that these obstacles are natural and a part of many of our lives. They are to be expected. And with faith an conviction we can overcome them.

With obstacles like doubt, laziness, instability or illness comes consequences within us. We could suffer from mental or physical pain, grief, frustration, tightness in the body and a shortness of breath.

How do we overcome our obstacles and move through the consequences? A principle known as one-pointedness.

One-pointedness is another way of saying focus or concentration. Do you see how we’re circling back around to what yoga is? Yoga is mastery of the fluctuations and activities of the mind.

Putting philosophy into practice

Preparing for meditation

There are things you can do to prepare yourself for meditation, including stabilising and clearing the mind. The sutras suggest particular methods:

Lovingness, compassion, happiness and acceptance in our attitudes towards others. And to cultivate focus internally, practising breath awareness, concentrating on sensation or inner luminosity, contemplation on a stable mind, and focussing on the stream of the mind.

These practices might sound too simple, or not enough, but they build a strong foundation for any student of meditation. Without these practices, any other practice can be difficult, fraught with whirring thoughts or frustrating.

In fact, many will not go beyond the basics. The effects and consequences of these more basic practices are enough for them.

Meditation

Meditation is painful in the beginning but it bestows immortal bliss and supreme joy in the end.
– Swami Sivananda

When the mind is focused on one thing (one-pointedness) it is much less likely to get tangled up in obstacles or consequences. The ‘one thing’ could be anything: an object, mantra or affirmation. To begin, choose your ‘one thing’. Choose with thought, wisdom and sincerity.

There are four levels of meditation on an object. You will experience these in order:

  • Gross thoughts – surface level thoughts
  • Without gross thoughts
  • With subtle thoughts – connotations, implied or inferred thoughts
  • Without subtle thoughts

Whether you know it or not, you will also be discerning three parts of your object while you meditate:

  • Word – the name
  • Object – the object itself
  • Knowledge – the essence

It is our practice to go beyond these three things, allowing the essence to shine through. This takes plenty of practice, so don’t be disheartened—it starts by simply knowing the three parts and beginning to differentiate between them.

With persistent practice meditation on objects will lead to higher wisdom and clarity and perhaps, one day, samadhi.

 


In this post, we have touched on Patanjali’s yoga sutras 1.19 to 1.51, and I’ve outlined some tried and tested practices for you to get to work on. Next month we’ll be going deeper into Method.

X