Dhāraṇā (from Sanskrit धारणा dhāraṇā) is translated as "collection or concentration of the mind (joined with the retention of breath)", or "the act of holding, bearing, wearing, supporting, maintaining, retaining, keeping back (in remembrance), a good memory", or "firmness, steadfastness, ... , certainty". This term is related to the verbal root dhri to hold, carry, maintain, resolve.
Dhāraṇā may be translated as "holding", "holding steady", "concentration" or "single focus". The prior limb Pratyahara involves withdrawing the senses from external phenomena. Dhāraṇā builds further upon this by refining it further to ekagrata or ekagra chitta, that is single-pointed concentration and focus, which is in this context cognate with Samatha. Maehle (2006: p. 234) defines Dharana as: "The mind thinks about one object and avoids other thoughts; awareness of the object is still interrupted."
Dhāraṇā is the initial step of deep concentrative meditation, where the object being focused upon is held in the mind without consciousness wavering from it. The difference between Dhāraṇā, Dhyāna, and Samādhi (the three together constituting Samyama) is that in the former, the object of meditation, the meditator, and the act of meditation itself remain separate. That is, the meditator or the meditator's meta-awareness is conscious of meditating (that is, is conscious of the act of meditation) on an object, and of his or her own self, which is concentrating on the object. In the subsequent stage of Dhyāna, as the meditator becomes more advanced, consciousness of the act of meditation disappears, and only the consciousness of being/existing and the object of concentration exist (in the mind). In the final stage of Samādhi, the ego-mind also dissolves, and the meditator becomes one with the object. Generally, the object of concentration is God, or the Self, which is seen as an expression of God.
- Sanskrit-English Dictionary by Monier-Williams, (c) 1899
- Maehle, Gregor (2006). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy. Doubleview, Western Australia: Kaivalya Publications. ISBN 978-0-9775126-0-7. OCLC 71245040.