Dhyana yoga (or “Dhyana meditation technique”) is the 7th limb of yoga and a core discipline in Hinduism and Buddhism.
You might have heard about Dhyana in yoga class. Unfortunately, it is often taught incorrectly.
We asked our Facebook fans how their yoga instructor had explained Dhyana. Forty-three per cent said they had been told that Dhyana Yoga is just another term for meditation.
Firstly, there really is no such thing as “just meditation”. To illustrate, take a look at my guide to the best yoga meditations.
Although Dhyana Yoga is similar to meditation, and especially Samatha Meditation Technique, it is more unique than most people realise.
The National Institute of Health  says, “The word [Dhyana] is usually translated as meditation, implying a state of abiding calm. [But Dhyana requires] Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, and Dharana too.”
Dhyana, the seventh limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga defined in The Yoga Sutras, is a unique practice with significant benefits. And it is one part of the most advanced method, Samyama meditation.
Given the power of the method, you will want to learn it properly.
What Is Dhyana Yoga / Dhyana Meditation Technique?
Dhyana is the seventh limb of yoga. The order of the “limbs” is as follows:
- Niyama (rules of conduct)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (restraint or expansion of the breath)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (absorption).
Yoga teacher Mara Carrico says the Eight Limbs of Yoga are a “prescription” for a morally disciplined life. To follow the true yoga lifestyle, we must follow all eight limbs. That’s why it is imperative to learn Dhyana yoga / Dhyana meditation technique properly.
According to Monier Williams [the second Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University], who wrote the Sanskrit-English Dictionary, the word “Dhyana” means “profound, abstract meditation”.
And according to The Yoga-Darsana: The sutras of Patanjali with the Bhasya of Vyasa by Harvard, Dhyana meditation is uninterrupted awareness.
Basically: Dhyana means to achieve and sustain a state of meditative oneness with the object of meditation.
It is the natural evolution of Dharana (concentration).
In Dhyana meditation, the meditator is aware of only two things:
- The origin of consciousness
- The object on which they are meditating.
This is different to more common meditation techniques, like Samatha / Dharana, which are focused meditations. In focused meditation, at least one of the five senses is always involved. In proper Dhyana yoga practice, no senses are involved.
Gregor Maehle, author of Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy, says that in Dhyana meditation the citta (mind / heart) is focused on the object of meditation in a way that is observed beyond ordinary perception and removed from the constraints of the ego.
In other words, we are not aware that we are meditating on an object. Instead, we are the object.
Dhyana is when the centre of consciousness focuses on the object of meditation. There is no distinction between the object and the meditator. They are one.
And that is one factor that many yoga teachers get wrong. They explain it like Samatha / Dharana. In fact, it is quite different.
Kirsty Tomlinson on Ekhart Yoga, explains it like this: “While Dharana requires us to concentrate on one object, Dhyana teaches us to observe it without judgement, without attachment – instead, contemplating it in all its colours and forms in a profound, abstract state of meditation.” .
How To Do Dhyana Yoga Meditation
To understand Dhyana yoga, you first must recognise why it is unique.
Some people refer to it as “Dhyana meditation” but it is in truth a deeper state of meditation than we enter into in most meditation techniques.
When meditating we are either doing Focused Attention Meditation (focusing on one thing) or Open Monitoring Meditation (letting the mind be open in pure awareness).
Dhyana is different because it does not use the senses.
In the book Ancient Yoga and Modern Science, T.R. Anantharaman says that in Dhyana, we are not judging or even aware of the possibility of judging. And we are not aware of the distinction between the self and the external world. We are one. It is a place beyond words. Lao Tzu spoke of a similar state when he said, “He who knows does not speak”.
Dhyana yoga leads us beyond likes, dislikes and sanskaras (imprints left on the mind).
Attachments evaporate like puddles in the sun.
We step out of Jadasamadhi (dreamlike state), let go of consciousness and self, and exist as pure Atma (higher self). In this state, we achieve oneness with the meditation object, a harmony based on complete love.
Imagine that you are made of three points. The first point is the origin. This is the very core from which consciousness stems. It is like the sun. It is the creator. The second point is your mind-body. Here you may be aware of thoughts and feelings. These thoughts and feelings are like clouds that prevent the sun from breaking through. The third and final part is reality itself. If you are meditating on an object (Dharana / Samatha), this third part will be the meditation object. In a breathing meditation, the third part is the breath. Likewise, in candle meditation, the third part is the candle.
When we enter Dhyana the only thing that exists is the object that we are meditating on and the centre of consciousness.
Dhyana Meditation Steps
- Sit with good posture. You can do Dhyana meditation in Shavasana. But I will continue with instructions for seated meditation. Place your feet shoulder-width apart. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Slightly lower your chin to lengthen your spine.
- Breathe. Take a minimum of twenty mindful breaths to relax your mind.
- Focus on your meditation object. You can either use a physical object such as a gemstone, or a mental image. Focus on one part of your object and meditate on it.
- What happens next is really a process of subtraction. You want your meditation object to be the only thing you are aware of. That means silencing thoughts and feelings. To do this, you need to detach from mental phenomena. While you are meditating on your object, mindfully observe and label mental phenomena such as thoughts and feelings, much as you would do in Vipassana. When you consciously observe these things, you will detach from them. Continue to do this until the only thing left is the meditation object. This is Dhyana meditation.
- To follow tradition, after Dhyana yoga practice comes Bhakti meditation technique.
- If you would like to know how Dhyana works with other meditation techniques, read my guide to Meditation For Enlightenment.
Because this is an advanced practice I will explain the important points.
When practising Dhyana meditation technique, we are only aware of the origin of consciousness and of the object on which we are meditating.
By detaching from our thoughts and feelings we put consciousness in direct contact with the object of meditation. This is Dhyana meditation technique: direct oneness with the object of meditation.
When practising Dhyana yoga, we are not aware of the fact that we are meditating, we are only aware of our consciousness and the object of meditation.
In his book Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation, Rolf Sovik [President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute] explains that Dhyana is “proper meditation” and that it is only possible after extensive practise of Dharana.
Sovik explains that it is not effortful meditation but pure existence. As you practice Dharana or Samatha (meditation focusing on an object), you will gradually quiet the mind and move towards oneness. At first, you might experience just a few seconds of Dhyana. But this time will increase the more you practice.
To go further in the technique, aim to stop trying to meditate and aim for effortless oneness with the meditation object. This will bring Dhyana faster and for more extended periods.
It is impossible to force Dhyana. Instead, it is a natural evolution of Dharana and will come through prolonged practice. That practice will be extremely fruitful. Once we achieve the state for an extended time, we find great insight into the nature of ourselves and our existence.
There are slight differences between Hindu Dhyana, Yoga Dhyana, and Buddhist Dhyana.
Hindus often practise Dhyana meditation technique by meditating on Om.
Sri Krishna gave instructions as follows:
“Seated comfortably in a seat neither high nor low, keeping the hands near the body unmoved, control the eye from wandering outwards (fix the gaze on the top of the nose). Control the breath by taking it through one nostril and letting it out through the other and vice versa. Control the senses. Pronounce the letter OM continuously and with deep devotion both while inhaling and exhaling.”
In Hinduism, it is believed that the practice of Dhyana meditation technique will lead to Samadhi. This is the highest state of concentration a person can achieve. According to Stuart Ray Sarbacker [Associate Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Philosophy] the ultimate goal is the union of Atman (soul) with Brahman (ultimate, unchanging reality).
In Buddhism, Dhyana is “no-mind”. It is a state of complete equanimity and awareness. In The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Alexander Wynne explains that Buddhism merges Dhyana meditation with mindfulness. Buddhists practise Dhyana meditation technique to achieve shunya (state of null).
Dhyana in yoga
Dhyana yoga builds on the practice of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (breath control) and Dharana (concentration) and leads to the eighth limb (absorption).
In yoga, Dhyana is complete, pure-minded meditation in which we are not aware that we are meditating. We are one with the object of meditation. And it is a oneness beyond thought and effort.
Natural moments of Dhyana meditation
You may have already experienced the state of Dhyana meditation before.
There are many times in life when you will already have felt a state similar to Dhyana. It is that feeling of what Buddhists call oneness. If you’re a parent, for instance, I’m sure you can vividly recall what it felt like to hold your baby in your arms for the first time. Your precious child took your breath away and removed you from yourself. You felt a true moment of oneness, at that time. It was meditative oneness brought about through love and devotion.
Love can lead to true moments of the Dhyana meditation. Moments of supreme beauty can also create oneness. I experienced such a moment during the death of my old cat, Tibby. She was nineteen when she passed. And I am very grateful that has a long life. She had been weakening. Her old eyes were barely open. My mother and I knew that Tibby was close to death from the sound of her thin and weak breathing and the film over her eyes.
Tibby had always been my mother’s cat. They spent so much time together. They were very close. Just before Tibby drew her last breath, she fought for energy and with her last gasp, she managed to crawl up onto my mother’s lap.
That was the very last thing she did: taking a seat on my mother’s lap, choosing to die with the person she’d spent her whole life with. It was a wonderful moment. At the time of Tibby’s death, I was not myself. I experienced a moment of profound oneness with her. I experienced Dhyana.
Dhyana is oneness.
There are moments when you will experience the state even if you don’t meditate. Dhyana meditation gives you the control to create those moments of oneness. And once you can create that state, you’ll gain tremendous insight into the true nature of reality. And that is what Dhyana meditation technique is all about.
From meditation to dhyana – NCBI – NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573536/