Yogi Mind: Ekagrata

The attainment of the Samadhi state involves the elimination of all-pointedness [i.e. wandering] of the mind and the rise of one-pointedness [i.e. concentration].

Yoga Sutra 3.11, trans. by Edwin Bryant

Under the appearance of thought, there is really an indefinite and disordered flickering, fed by sensations words, and memory. The first duty of the yogin is to think-that is, not to let himself think. This is why Yoga practice begins with ekagrata, which darns the mental stream and thus constitutes a 'psychic mass,' a solid and unified continuum.

Mircea Eliade

When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a lamp in a windless place.

Bhagavad Gita, 6.19-20

The most powerful lessons in one-pointedness I’ve had came while watching yajnas, ancient Vedic fire ceremonies that are performed by Brahmin priests. During the 4 years I lived in India I attended a number of these ceremonies, which often last for several days. In a yajna, Vedic mantras are chanted and offerings such as wood, fruit, yogurt, grains, and ghee are made to a sacrificial fire. The heat of the fire, often combined with the heat of the day, and the sounds of the continuous chanting of sacred texts created a powerful atmosphere that for me always encouraged deep introspection and internal focus. Watching these ceremonies, I would imagine that the offerings to the fire were also taking place inwardly. I often felt that the fire was stoking my own process of inner purification and transformation.

For hours and hours, the Brahmin priests would sit, completely focused on reciting Vedic mantras from memory, while making offerings at the appropriate times. I never once saw their attention waiver. Watching them perform the yajna was a great lesson on one-pointedness in itself.

My favorite part was the offering of liquid ghee. It would be taken from a large silver bowl, scooped up in a long-handled ladle. The priest would hold the ladle directly above the fire and slowly pour it into the fire. Liquid and golden, the ghee would flow in a steady stream, stoking the flames as it was added. He would repeat this again and again. Watching the pouring of the ghee, my mind would often become transfixed on the steady stream of golden liquid. It brought a sense of one-pointed concentration. And, as my focus would eventually waiver, I would contemplate the many layers of the scene that all pointed to the same experience of undistracted focus - the complete focus of the priest as he gracefully handled the ladle, the continuous stream of the ghee flowing down, and the totality of my senses focused on the action. I recognized this as a kind of absorption, an experience of the state of yoga.

Ekagrata, one-pointedness, is yoga’s solution to taming the distracted restlessness of the wandering mind. Closely related to the practice of dharana (concentration), it is quality of focus, the ability to draw the attention into a single stream of perception.

One of the most common reported benefits of a regular meditation practice that my students report is an increased ability to focus. They often tell me, not longer after they begin a daily practice, that their minds feel clearer and they can more easily focus on the task at hand. And thank goodness for that. In our ever-expanding world of instant, continuous, unending opportunities for distraction, developing Ekagrata is one of the most powerful ways yoga contributes to improving our level of functioning in our everyday lives. It is one of the most important qualities we develop in practice. 

Just as the mind has the ability to go outward in a centrifugal movement (away from the center), it also has the power to turn inward in a centripetal direction (toward the center). The latter is what we develop through practicing ekagrata.

It’s not so much about trying to stop the mind, but rather directing the flow of attention inward and fixing the continuous stream of our awareness on a chosen object, such as the poured ghee.  In this way, all the various mental energies, including thoughts, feelings and sense perceptions, converge on a singular inner focus and stay there for a while.

One-pointedness brings joy and a sense of freedom. Recognizing that the term yoga refers both to the journey and the destination, we understand that becoming fully absorbed in the process of performing asana IS the yoga. Ekagrata allows us to be in each stage of our pose from start to finish, breathing, feeling, sensing, noticing, responding, and even relishing.