We've been checking in with the teaching collective lately, asking them, ‘What have you been working on in your own yoga practice (sadhana)?’ Andrew has been pondering all things dhãranā (concentration).

Many would agree that life is full of things contending for our attention and energy, and it doesn’t always feel easy to turn up for yoga. And yet, for those of us who have fallen in love with yoga, we find ourselves back on the mat time and time again, often despite a certain degree of inner resistance on some days to the idea.

What exactly is it that keeps us coming back?

This is a question I will often ask the group at the start of a class and I always find it interesting to hear the various responses.

On one level, it might seem like a trivial question. However, I believe there is much to be found if you can properly sit with it.

I think it can be a useful question because it seeks to clarify for yourself what it is that motivates you and might also help you connect with a more authentic meaning for yourself.

I believe that if you have a good grasp on your deeper motivations, then you are more likely to persist in practising—to ride through some of the more challenging moments which invariably pop up from time to time. This is significant because many of the practices of yoga are best suited to the ‘little-bit-often and for-a-long-time’ paradigm.

Much like a tree’s roots can break through solid rock given enough time, yoga can work, seemingly without extraneous effort, when integrated slowly and steadily over an extended period of time. We are speaking in terms of years and decades generally. This can sound somewhat daunting but if done by starting with something very short and simple, and building progressively upon that, it can be a very easeful, sustainable and enjoyable experience.

In the spirit of sharing and with regards to my own personal practice, like many, my yoga has been through its own evolution of various techniques, emphasis and interests over time. However, when looking back, and in reference to this particular question of what keeps bringing me back, I would say the simplest answer would be: dhãranā.

This sanskrit word, dhāranā, translated as concentration or directing the mind to one place, is how I would best describe what I’m actually doing when I practise yoga. Sure, externally, I am aware that it might look like I’m assuming a range of bodily forms combined with sibilant breathing in a highly orchestrated fashion, but from my own internal place of experience, my yoga has always been about connecting the mind to one simple idea or activity and consistently and patiently returning to that every time it decides to wander off.

If one thousand times my mind drifts, one thousand times I gently send the mind back to the promise I made myself at the beginning of the session—the singular thing. Then, it’s almost like the postures and breathing (and the likes) become various tests to mental steadiness and through this I become more and more accustomed to remaining anchored regardless of any dynamic going on more superficially. It’s not easy but this has kept me happily occupied for well over a decade now!

The particular thing one might choose to focus on is not that important, I find. However, I would say that finding something sattvic (having qualities that bring lightness and balance) and is free of complexity can make it easier. A couple of examples that I often return to are: repeating a mantra mentally, visualising the inhale entering from above and the exhale rising from below, or hooking the mind to the technique of muladhara bandha. If you are not sure what those mean, I am happy to go through it with you in person if you wish!

And so, is this a question you have pondered for yourself? What consistently keeps you coming back to yoga?

–Andrew Trotter