In Hindu traditions that are derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, dhyana is a refined meditative practice that requires deep mental concentration. This kind of meditation is taken up only after engaging in preparatory exercises.
As the seventh limb of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, dhyana builds upon the practices of asana (physical posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (control of the senses, moving the focus inward) and dharana (concentration). When practiced together with dharana and the eighth limb of samadhi (absorption), the three together form samyama, resulting in a full detachment of the mind from worldly bindings and a deeper understanding of the object of meditation. At the final stage, or jhana, of dhyana, the yogi does not see it as a meditation practice anymore as they are so fully immersed in the meditative act that they can no longer separate the self from it.
The term, dhyana, appears in the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient Hindu scripture that outlines the four branches of yoga: Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Jnana yoga and Dhyana yoga. In the text, Dhyana yoga is described by Lord Krishna as being the yoga of meditation.
Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, v. 6
“For one who has subdued the mind, the mind is a friend. However, for one who has not controlled the mind, the mind is the greatest enemy”.