Now let’s consider dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Collectively, they are called samyama.  (Part 3 of the Yoga Sutras, sections 3.1 - 3.6)

The concept of samyama resonates with me because, when I am practicing the last 3 limbs, it often feels like I’m constantly moving between concentration, meditation and absorption.  A great way to illustrate this process is a mantra practice.  Say, you are learning a new mantra, for example, Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha.  First, you have to know how to pronounce the mantra and memorize the order, the cadence and the tune.  This takes a great deal of concentration, and you’ll probably need to have the mantra in front of you, reading it over and over as you chant.  Then you start to memorize it, and it starts becoming more natural, easier.  In fact, at some point, if you think too much about it instead of just “letting it happen”, you’ll probably get the words jumbled.  This is where you move into meditation.  Eventually, you chant the mantra with such ease that if feels like its written into your DNA.  And here we find total absorption in the mantra.  But as you practice, the mind wanders, requiring a return to concentration and starting the process over.  Hence, the idea of flowing back and forth between the three aspects of samyama.

As stated in the first article of this series, the yoga definition of enlightenment is self realization.  It could be said that, to know what we ARE, we must know what we are NOT.  Yoga could be seen as a process of eliminating everything that we THINK we are, moving towards our true essence. 

A great way to illustrate this idea is through the koshas, or psychic sheaths.

FIG. 1 |  Pancha Kosha: Vital Sheaths

FIG. 1 | Pancha Kosha: Vital Sheaths

FIG. 2 |

FIG. 2 |

FIG. 3 |

FIG. 3 |

FIG. 4 |

FIG. 4 |

The koshas have been depicted two different ways, all depending on what tradition you are following.  Figure 3 depicts the koshas emanating away from the body, Figure 1 and 2 depict the koshas moving inward.  Since yoga is really a journey within, the depiction in Figure 1 and 2 resonates the most with me.  And Figure 4 represents a fun way to depict the koshas with the largest doll representing the physical body, gradually moving within to the true self.

Notice that each of the koshas end with “maya”.  Maya means appearance, as if something appears to be one way, but is really another.  Here it means that the sheaths or koshas are only an appearance - underneath all these appearances we are pure, divine, mahadeva, cosmic consciousness.  

Consider Figures 1 and 2.  

The Physical body is ruled by the Annamaya kosha (anna means food). The yoga practices affecting the annamaya kosha are yama, niyama and asana.  (Some traditions include the practice of shatkarmas, which are additional body purifications.  You can find these in the Hatha Yoga Padipika.  Shatkarmas are pretty out there; I think most western yogis focus primarily on asana to purify the body).  

The Energy body is ruled by the Pranamaya kosha (prana means energy).  It’s the subtle energy body, affected by pranayama practices.  The Energy body is made up of the chakras and the nadis and is responsible for distributing energy to every cell of the body.  The Energy body is also the place of the kundalini shakti rising experience discussed in the pranayama section.  

The Mental body is ruled by the Manamaya kosha (mana means mind). It’s affected by pratyahara.  This “sensory body” consists of the cognitive and active senses and the lower mind aspect of the antahkarana (the manas, the ahamkara and the citta) that we discussed in the pratyahara section.

The Wisdom body is ruled by theVijnanamaya kosha (vijnana means wisdom or intellect).  Here is the sheath of wisdom underneath the processing, thinking aspect of mind, the buddhi aspect of the antahkarana.  

The Bliss body is ruled by the Anandamaya kosha (ananda means bliss).  Not Bliss as a mere emotion, it is the peace, joy, and love that is underneath, beyond the mind, independent of any reason or stimulus to cause a happy mental reaction.  This is the place of the individual consciousness, the Atman/Self, the witnessing presence underneath it all.  But even the bliss body is a kosha, a sheath, obscuring our true nature as pure consciousness. 

All of the koshas are prana dependent, which is very important to our samyama meditation: 

  1. The Annamaya kosha, the physical body, consisting of the bones, the muscles, the organs, in fact, every individual cell depends on prana as much as it does oxygen.  All of these structures receive the needed prana through the thousands of nadis inundating the physical body.
  2. The Pranamaya kosha, the chakras and the nadis, are also sustained by prana: prana circulates in the structure of the chakras and the nadi system, keeping the prana body strong and healthy, just like blood circulates through our digestive organs, not within the contents of the organs but within the walls of the organs carrying the food.
  3. The Manamaya kosha, the lower mind, the cognitive and active senses, AND the nervous system through which they all communicate is sustained by prana, exactly like the chakras and nadis are sustained by their own prana supply.
  4. The Vijnanamaya kosha, consisting of the higher mind, the buddhi, has its own prana circulation system as well, keeping the kosha intact.  The buddhi, however, is powered through the individual consciousness instead of prana.
  5. And, like the Vijnanamaya kosha, the Anandamaya kosha, the actual sheath, is powered by prana, although what it obscures, our individual consciousness, is not.
  6. Prana powers the entire kosha system and allows the yogi to pass back and forth through the koshas as he or she practices.

The aim of all yoga practices is to attain higher and higher states of consciousness by piercing kosha after kosha, ultimately coming to the realization that we are nothing but cosmic consciousness.

Determining What We Are Not

Determining what we are NOT begins with a simple statement: “If I can be aware of it, then it’s not who I am”.  This realization is incredibly simple, and incredibly profound.  Here begins the emergence of the “witnessing presence”; that state of consciousness that can witness all of our aspects and qualities.  Moving through the koshas brings this to light:

  1. The Annamaya kosha is the physical body.  On the surface, it “appears” (maya) that all we are is the physical body and all its vibrations.  But I can be aware of the physical body: all of the sensations I create through asana, all the thoughts, all the emotions, all the information being received through the senses and the prana moving through my system.  I have a “witnessing presence”, something entirely separate from the body.
  2. The Pranamaya kosha is the energy body.  My “witnessing presence” can be aware of the prana body, the chakras generating energy and the circulation of prana to every cell of my being through the nadis, as well as the prana running through the structure of the energy body.
  3. The Manamaya kosha is the sensory body.  I can be aware of the sensory body, the cognitive and active senses, the aspects of the lower mind, the prana that powers it.  
  4. The Vijnanamaya kosha is the wisdom body, the home of the buddhi, the higher mind.  I can be aware of the buddhi, how it operates within the structure of the inner instrument.
  5. The Anandamaya kosha is the bliss body, the abode of the individual consciousness.  And through a realization of pure consciousness, beginning through the pranayama practices, I can be aware of my individual consciousness, eliminating even the Self/Atman as “what I am”; allowing awareness that I am Divine, Cosmic Consciousness.

Now we are ready for Dharana.

The Sri Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (“VBT”), subtitled “The Ascent”, by Swami Satyasangananda Saraswati, provides us with over 100 Dharana practices to use.  The book comes from the Tantra tradition and is incredibly complex (it’s definitely directed at an audience that is way smarter than me and who has a level of knowledge at their fingertips that I am slowly trying to acquire).  The Dharana that I will be teaching you comes from Sloka 55 of VBT:

Sloka 55: Dharana on the Indriyas, or senses

पिनां च दुर्बलां शक्तिं ध्यात्वा द्वादशगोचरे।

प्रविश्य हृदये ध्यायन् मुक्तः स्वातन्त्र्यमाप्नुयात्॥ ५५॥

Having meditated on the gross and weak shakti in the dwadash indriyas (thus making it subtle), one who enters the heart space and meditates there attains mukti and becomes liberated.

The sloka can be paraphrased thusly: drain the prana into the heart space.

The Practice

Bring your awareness to the physical body.  See the prana that animates the body, coursing through the chakras and the nadis.  Visualize the prana beginning to withdraw from the extremities, draining into the heart space.  As the body empties of prana, visualize the body beginning to wither, shrivel and finally begin to disintegrate and disappear.  

Bring your awareness to the prana body.  See the prana moving through the structure of the chakras and nadis (not the contents).  Visualize the prana draining from the prana body structure, draining into the heart space.  Visualize the prana body beginning to wither and finally disappear.

Bring your awareness to the cognitive senses.  Focus on your sense of sight, the organ itself and the neurological structure of how it communicates with the brain.  Withdraw the prana, draining into the heart space.  Visualize the same for the sense of hearing, smell, taste and touch.  See the prana draining from the cognitive senses, draining into the heart space.  See each of the sensory organs withering and dissolving.

Bring your awareness to the active senses.  See the organs of elimination, reproduction, moving grasping and speaking.  Move through each, withdrawing the prana, draining it into the heart space.  See the active senses withering and dissolving.

Bring your awareness to the antahkarana, the inner instrument.  Visualize the manas, the sensory superintendent.  Begin withdrawing prana from the manas, draining it into the heart space.  See the manas wither and dissolve.

Bring your awareness to the ahamkara, the ego.  Withdraw prana here, draining it into your heart space.  See the ahamkara wither and dissolve.

Bring awareness to the citta, the memory banks.  Withdraw prana, draining it into the heart space.  See the citta wither and dissolve.

Bring awareness to the buddhi, the higher mind.  Visualize the individual consciousness draining the energy from the buddhi, causing it to wither and dissolve.

Finally, bring awareness to your individual consciousness.  From this new state of awareness, create the intention of realizing that you are nothing but pure consciousness, Divine.  Visualize yourself melting into the cosmic consciousness, realizing that you and the creator are one entity.  See yourself infinitely expanding in all directions.  Move back and forth through the three stages of samyama.


A daily 8 limb practice IS attainable.  Hopefully, I’ve provided you with a path to follow that makes the process less daunting.  Like all of yoga, perseverance is the key.

“Spirituality is not some external goal that one must seek, but a part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal.” ~ BKS Iyengar