Eka means ONE. Grata means pointedness. The full word – ekāgratā – means one-pointedness. This is essentially another term for concentration. The yogi is ever trying to cultivate single-mindedness in his/her practice whether that is within the asana (physical postures) or during dharana practices (concentration practices). One-pointedness can be likened to the idea of flow¹ both at the physical and mental levels.
In our daily life we are constantly distracted on the mental level. In Patanjali’s yoga sutras 1:30 he states the following disturbances keep us from the mental peace of ekāgratā.
Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained – these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.
We also tend to be distracted at the physical level and this is where the postures of yoga come to our aid in preparing the firm ground for gaining mental peace.
All yogic postures are an effort to unify or simplify our somatic existence. They are as it were one-pointedness (ekāgratā) at the level of the body. Ordinarily we are as distracted on the physical level as we are on the mental level.Feuerstein³ (2003)
Concentration on a single point in asana can involve focusing on an aspect of the body such as the space between the eyebrows, the tip of the nose, the big toe, the thumb. These points are known as drishti.
In Dharana activities the single object can be a candle flame (tratak) or any object from nature, or an image of a spiritual master. The object can also be mental e.g. a thought, a word, mantra or prayer. It could be a visualisation of a spiritual person.
The immediate result of ekāgratā, concentration on a single point, is prompt and lucid censorship of all the distractions and automatisms that dominate – or, properly speaking, compose – profane consciousness. … A yogin can obtain discontinuity of consciousness at will … It goes without saying that ekāgratā can be obtained only through the practice of numerous exercises and techniques …Mircea Eliade (1969)²
So why would we aspire to cultivating such one-pointedness in our lives? What benefit does it have?
One-pointedness certainly helps us experience ‘flow’ in our lives. Read ¹Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1992) for a comprehensive explanation of how flow can be experienced. The main aim of ekāgratā is to calm down the flux of our everyday consciousness thus lessening the effect of fragmentation in the mental and physical spheres. By doing so, we begin to make ourselves whole, reintegrating all the diverse aspects of ourselves and unifying with something larger than ourselves. With ekāgratā we join with or tune into the rhythm of the cosmos. This is the first phase. In the long term yogis are aiming to gain liberation or samādhi. That is a subject for a future blog post.
Through samadhi, the yogin transcends opposites and, in a unique experience, unites emptiness and superabundance, life and death, being and nonbeing. Nor is this all. Like all paradoxical states, samadhi is equivalent to a reintegration of the different modalities of the real in a single modality – the undifferentiated completeness of procreation, the primordial Unity.Mircea Eliade (1969)²
This A-Z series of blogs focuses on unpacking the Sanskrit terms used in yoga.
¹Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1992) Flow, The Psychology of Happiness, Random Century Group
²Eliade, Mircea (1969) YOGA – Immortality and Freedom, Princeton Bollingen, Chapter 2
³Feuerstein, Georg (2003) The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Theory and Practice, Shambhala
⁴Satchidanananda, Sri Swami (1987, second edition 1990) The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Integral Yoga Publications