Dharana (Sanskrit – literally ‘act of holding’) is the ‘concentration of the mind’. Where pratyahara is to relieve the mind of outside distractions, this allows the opportunity to begin focusing on distractions of the mind itself. From this point, the most essential task is to concentrate the mind in a single direction, or a single object, idea etc.
The aim of Dharana is to condition the mind to focus attention in one specific direction, and to prevent the mind from wandering. The chosen object or idea does not have to be relevant to anything, it is only there to serve as an anchor for the mind.
Candle-gazing, visualisation of an object, concentration of breathing, and pictures of flowers or deities are common practises of Dharana.
By this point, the practitioner should have confidence in their developed powers of concentration through the previous stages of asana, pranayama and pratyahara. However, in Dharana the focus is built on the previous stages so that they become more fine-tuned and immediate, allowing greater focused meditation to take place.