We have been journeying through Patanjali's eight limbs of yoga known as astanga (asta meaning eight in sanskrit). We last covered pratyahara, which we learned as withdrawal of the senses. By learning how to tune out our senses, our mind is no longer fed with mis-information. Our mind stays in a neutral zone so we are better able to focus within. Pratyhara leads us to the samyamas, the last three branches in this eight limb system. Samyama means "tying up" or "binding". Symbolically, these last three limbs, concentration, meditation and union, "tie up" the eight limbs in an elegant package of understanding our oneness with all.
Dharana is the sixth branch as outlined in the Yoga Sutras and it means concentration on a given object. We use the lessons from pratyhara to help us tune out everything around us so that we can solely focus on the one object we have decided to concentrate on. This object can be anything! A candle, a tree, your breath, a visualization of a friend, a picture, a book, a healing stone, your mala beads, etc. This is a great way to help train the mind to stay focused. You are giving the mind one thing to zone in on and one thing only. Dharana is leading us up to this concept of oneness but it, itself, is not oneness. In dharana, there is an object of meditation which is consciously separate from the meditator.
"It is attention itself, which is progressively moving inward through these few stages:
•Attention leads to concentration (dharana). (3.1)
•Concentration leads to meditation (dhyana). (3.2)
•Meditation leads to absorption (samadhi). (3.3)" swamij.com
Iyengar : “Here the concentration is on the innermost core of the heart, wherein alone the sorrowless, effulgent light glows. This is the seat of the soul. The mind is guided in such a way that it becomes engrossed, and penetrates towards its source. Movements in the form of thoughts in the mind are the waves, and citta [mind], or the seat of consciousness, is the ocean. The sadhaka [person on path to a goal] must learn to keep the citta motionless and thoughtfully silent, without creating waves of thought. This effort of stilling and silencing the citta brings forth the sorrowless effulgent light of the soul."
"Dharana is concentration or fixity on that inner conception or object of meditation. Thus arises from this contemplation the perception of the Divine Presence, first within oneself, and then evolving into cosmic conception—conceiving of the vastness of Spirit, omnipresent within and beyond all creation. The culmination of samyama self-mastery is when the meditator, the process of meditating, and the object of meditation become one—the full realization of oneness with Spirit." From the writings of Paramahansa Yogananda
"If we know the divine art of concentration, if we know the divine art of meditation, if we know the divine art of contemplation, easily and consciously we can unite the inner world and the outer world." Sri Chinmoy