III.1 “When the attention of the mind-stuff is directed in a single stream to a chosen field without being dissipated and thus distracted – that is concentration.”
Let’s break that down a bit further,
“When the attention of the mind-stuff…”
What is the mind-stuff? I like to think of the mind-stuff as a collection of your conscious and unconscious mind. This includes thoughts and inner dialogue that runs rather loudly through your head (i.e., “Did I defrost the meat for dinner tonight?”). It also includes slivers of thoughts that are often barely a mental whisper (i.e., feelings of hunger, heat or cold) and mere shadows of thoughts and emotions (feelings of sadness or happiness for example). Mind-stuff even includes the extremely subtle, yet always present, unconscious mind. These things – and the willful directing of these things – make up the mind-stuff.
Let’s move on…
“When the attention of the mind-stuff is directed in a single stream…”
By “a single stream,” it is meant your mind-stuff is consciously directed, focused and pointed towards one single thing. Imagine a laser beam cutting light through a dark room. It points straight, narrow and concentrated. There is no scattering or waivering of light– its single purpose is to point in one specific direction. This is akin to our mind-stuff directed in a single stream.
This degree of concentration is difficult. It takes something I think of as “mental muscle.”
“…to a chosen field without being dissipated and thus distracted –that is concentration.”
When Pantanjali says “a chosen field,” he doesn’t limit or define what that field is or should be. Your chosen field – or what it is you choose to concentrate on – could be any number of ideas or things. For example, you could concentrate on praying the rosary, repeating a mantra, visualizing a beautiful flower, the act of breathing, or practicing the asanas.
Yoga and Concentration
The very act of practicing yoga can and should be an act in concentration. It’s easy to think of dishes and children while holding downward dog – but then you’re not getting the full benefits from your yoga practice.
Instead, try using your practice as the “chosen field” of your “single streamed” concentration. Pay attention to your breath and movement as you flow and hold one pose… and another.
Pay close attention to all aspects of your practice – from bodily sensations (both good and bad), feelings of fatigue or energy, changes in the breath, and the places where your mind attempts to wander. If you pay close attention during your practice – you’ll realize there are a million and one things occurring simultaneously – both inside yourself and in the world around you.
In this way, you’ll make “doing yoga” into an act of moving meditation.
Let me now leave you with another quote from Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras,
III.2 “When the cognition is entirely concentrated in that field thus becoming its own field of observation – that is, when the observer is observed – it is meditation.