The sixth step is dharana, intense concentration on a single point. At first, concentration is fixed on a specific object, sound or idea but eventually practicing dharana means to bind your concentration on a single point of nothingness.
To practice dharana, first use something tangible – a candle, a tree, the spot in between the eyebrows, or a sound such as flowing water. This single-minded focus on one point is the sixth limb of Patanjali’s path and the precursor to a practice of meditation.
As you gain experience with the practice or when you settle in each time you practice, the focus of attention in dharana is on some internalized and abstract object. This one-pointed concentration is akin to the flow state that is achieved during bursts of sport or intellectual work, but is devoid of the accompanying muscular or mind tension.
Dharana is an antidote to internal conflict that plagues the mind. Shifting from one idea or opinion to another within the span of a day or even a moment is common. A wide range of knowledge is useful, but being unable to focus on anything in particular is distracting. Dharana is the practice of maintaining focus on something.
Note that yoga practices such as dharana are not intended to be applied as self-help. Although the practice is a conditioning strategy for training the mind towards calm and ease, it should be considered an all-encompassing presence rather than a goal. If you’re struggling to make a decision in your personal life and you desperately need focus from all the distracting variables, dharana will help, but only if it’s a practice you’ve already honed. Like all aspects of yoga, dharana should be practiced when you don’t need it for anything specific so that when you do need it, it’s already in your repertoire.