Five Pillars Yoga

Exploring the Eight Limb Path: Dhyana

Week Seven: Meditation

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas, asana, pranayamapratyahara, and dharana.

Dhyana, in Sanskrit, means contemplation, reflection and profound, abstract meditation; the seventh of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs, it’s virtually impossible to talk about without mentioning dharana, the limb we covered last week. While dhyana, meditation, and dharana, concentration, may appear to be the same, there are key differences.

Dharana is the practice of single-pointed concentration and the tool most at work in the observation of mindfulness; it has natural, off-the-mat applications that dhayana does not, like helping us listen to a conversation more deeply or enjoy an experience more fully. As a tool for meditation, the cultivation of dharana allows us to focus our thoughts on one point — the breath, a mantra, an object, or a sound.


Unlike dharana, dhyana is an absolute practice; while you can practice meditation anywhere — on a plane, at your desk, lying in bed — you can not meditate while having a conversation or engaging fully in an experience. It is an experience complete in and of itself.

Here’s another way to look at it: Dharana, according to the Indian philosopher and theologist Adi Shankara, is the state of being focused on one object while remaining aware of its many aspects and holding many ideas about that object. Dhyana is the yoga state in which there is only a uniform stream of continuous thought about the object, uninterrupted by different thoughts about the object.

Super heady, right?

Absolutely, but we’re ready for this. The more concrete limbs of Patanjali’s path have been leading up to this abstract, esoteric point. By opening the body, purifying the breath, and practicing concentration in our day to day lives, the state of complete absorption that dhyana requires is not so far off. Create space at the end of your next yoga practice to sit in quiet contemplation, free of agenda or nagging concerns about what needs to happen next. Make room for the mind to still. Watch.

Photos: Top photo courtesy of; monks meditating from