In my yoga classes and one to one sessions, we are are looking at the array of mind training practices that Patanjali describes as dharana (concentration), dhyana (contemplation), and samadhi (meditation). In our asana (posture and movement) and pranayama (breathing) practice we can explore these mind training methods quite well. In fact, for many of us, its a good place to learn to concentrate and contemplate in a yoga pose or movement, or by observing your breathing. However more and more I find myself referring people to practices of every day life beyond the class, and off the mat.
Concentration can be found in a focus on our work, efforts and labour. Contemplation can be explored by gazing on art, listening to music, reading great works, or immersing ourselves in nature. For many the immersion of ourselves in nature can be found by simply going for a walk, or swimming in the sea. Even going out of doors at night and staring at the millions of stars in the night sky can be a source of contemplation.
It is easy to consider concentration and contemplation as “Meditation”. According to learned folk like Patanjali, it is another step or layer. I say sort the concentration and the contemplation out first. In 21st Century Britain we find ourselves pulled hither & thither, and if we can concentrate on something for a moment – or contemplate something for a moment we are beginning to build a powerful mind training practice. Of course, just like practicing yoga postures and movements we need to practice consistently and regularly. The concentration and contemplation muscles are built with regular effort. But be kind and gentle with yourself – don’t start with the aim of an hour’s practice – aim for 5 minutes each day and go from there.
Return to experiencing concentration through learning, effort or labour, craft or skilled effort and work, and find joy in contemplation through nature, art or music.
Of course, in our relationships with ourselves and others we can explore these practices too – give time to yourself or others and concentrate on our or others needs – and then contemplate the beauty of our sense of being, and our relationships with other beautiful beings.
For many – writing, narratives and scriptures are a good entry point. Some gravitate to spiritual or religious scripture. Many find poetry or narratives have a place. A popular writing to read is Desiderata. Another, which I find very beautiful and worthy of exploration is the Prayer of St Francis. But you don’t necessarily need spiritual or religious texts – whatever you are drawn to can form the basis of both concentration, and contemplation.