THE ART OF STILLNESS
Developing Dharana (concentration)
A wellness program for post primary schools.
“Once you know yourself in your living stillness there is nothing in this world that is greater than you” Serge Benhayan. Esoteric Teaching &Revelations p 103
During one of my first few days at the Ganga Darshan Ashram I was busy doing my Karma Yoga, I had just finished the task I was given, and I went to the Swami in charge and asked for something else to do, she replied, “no there is nothing more for you today and while you are here you must learn how to do nothing”. What she meant was that I was so busy wanting to do things that I also needed to compliment my Karma Yoga with STILLNESS, simply sitting still and observing. In all our practices in the ashram when it came to meditation the first practice was Kaya Sthairyam (body stillness) there are 12 stages of Kaya Sthairyam and these allow one to develop a steady body without this one cannot hope for any meaningful success in meditation.
The first problem we often face in meditation is restlessness, physical tension there is always some irritating sensation which distracts us from sitting still for long periods of time. This inability to be still can be due to lifestyle issues. By sustained effort the physical body must be moulded so it can become a willing receptacle which can bear light which pours during Yoga. A strong nervous system is essential for any spiritual transformation.
Developing Physical Stillness
The following is an excerpt from Dharana Darshan by Swami Niranjananda Saraswati in which he discusses how to achieve physical stability.
Before attempting the practices of Dharana (concentration) Kaya Sthairyam must first be mastered. You should be able to sit still without moving any part of the body for at lest half an hour, then you will be ready to begin the practices of Dharana.
In the initial stage of Kaya Sthairyam the body should be comfortable and relaxed in the meditation posture. Later, as immobility develops, the physical awareness will gradually subside as awareness of stillness increases. At this time the concentration is shifted from the body to the breath, as the mind still has a focus.
Ultimately, the awareness of the breath will also subside so that there is only awareness. At that time, you are ready to begin Dharana. Below is a brief outline of the stages of Kaya Stillness.
- Preparation-finding a comfortable upright sitting position.
- Body awareness-moving the awareness through the various body parts, feeling the symmetry of the body.
- Picturing the body-visualising the body reflected in an imaginary mirror from all angles.
- A solid body-rooting the body to the floor, developing a sense of heaviness.
- Sensations in the body-deep awareness e.g. sensations on the skin, cold, heat etc
- Body parts-intense awareness from the head to feet.
- Immobility of the body-resolving not to move.
- Steadiness and stillness-at this stage we don’t allow any distractions, full physical awareness.
- Locking in the stillness
- Breath awareness-moving away from the physical awareness.
- State of concentration-experiencing full awareness
- Ending the practice-externalising the awareness to the outer environment.
With practice and discipline the entire body-mind complex begins to shift, this can be measured in terms of lower blood pressure and a calmer more focused mind that is comfortable and not worried.
The American psychologist William James talked of these types of practices and of meditation and the significance of these skills. “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is the very root of judgement, character and will. An education which would include this faculty would be the education par excellence”
In a classroom setting there can be nothing as important for the student as being able to concentrate and focus his/her attention to the task at hand.
Aims and objectives:
The Wellbeing programme designed by the Dublin School of Yoga aims to provide a safe space in which to develop the physical and mental/emotional health and wellness of students. It is intended as an aid to education and as a support for the curriculum rather than a stand-alone module, to create a sense of harmony within the whole school environment.
The programme is all-inclusive, accommodating students of all needs, both physical requirements and specialised learning needs and staff have experience of working within all-inclusive learning environments.
The main aim of the programme is to increase and improve the student’s ability to learn. Modules aim to develop:
- attention, concentration and memory
- improve listening skills
- improve focus
- bring students into the present moment – the most basic requirement for learning
- create awareness of learning strengths and opportunities
- promote inclusiveness and tolerance
- ease anxiety and tension (working especially on performance & pre-test jitters)
- promote groupwork skills.
- Modules further focus on whole person wellbeing elements, looking to:
- keep young bodies’ supple and strong – improving posture, writing muscles & ability to sit comfortably.
- improve confidence and gain respect for oneself and others (leading to better social interactions, supporting anti-bullying education)
- gain understanding of, and ability to integrate wellness concepts such as healthy eating, positive thinking and having gratitude, which ultimately support the health of the whole child.
- encourage regular guided reflection, encouraging students to increase self-awareness. Students will undergo continuous assessment and will be assessed on their engagement with the programme at each session. A reflective diary will also feature as an element of reporting for students. Each participant will work on a weekly reflection as part of the programme and diaries will include an online element. Reporting by the module providers will be achieved in the form of a comment on the student’s engagement and progress in achieving the goals of the programme.
- Wellbeing Programme Content
- Wellbeing in the Classroom Programme for Students
- Includes the following practices:
- POSTURES … simple postures to stimulate the body’s vital energies. They also learn how to develop an upright spine that is more conducive to learning and more comfortable for the student in the classroom. These postures have been modified to suit the seated position.
- BREATHING… breathing exercises that demonstrate how to use the breath effectively, economically and efficiently; calming the nervous system. Students learn how to use the breath to help them to strengthen their focus on the topic they are engaging with in the classroom.
- RELAXATION… simple relaxation techniques that can be applied in the classroom, based on the systematic practice of Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra is a wonderful therapeutic deep practice during which students learn how to relax properly and fully. It involves lying on the floor covered by a cosy blanket and following instructions. It helps to lower stress levels by allowing deep rooted tensions to surface and leave. A Sankalpa (resolve) is encouraged during the practice which develops willpower.
- CONCENTRATION… to improve mental health, we use Dharana techniques that concentrate the mental energies to one pointedness which develops a more focused, calm relaxed mind that is more open to learning. This also provides a firm foundation for better self-esteem and self-worth.
- The above practices are taught in the following combinations:
- Posture Awareness Class:
- The focus will be on the body and correcting poor posture, (some students develop poor posture through prolonged time spent gaming) followed by a short relaxation and some concentration techniques …. – energizing body and mind.
- Relaxation Awareness Class:
- The aim here is a 30-45 min Yoga Nidra (relaxation) session, which is preceded by breathing and followed by some concentration techniques, – a deeper therapeutic practice which reached deep levels of held stress.
The Dublin school of Yoga is a member of the British Wheel of Yoga and is fully accredited and insured. All teachers are highly qualified and details of their CPD can be given on request.