Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga and it is concerned with taking us from the outside to the inside. Pratyahara is composed of two Sanskrit words; prati (against or away) and ahara (anything we take into ourselves from the outside). Therefore this limb literally means ‘gaining mastery over external influences’, but it is usually translated as ‘conscious withdrawal from the senses’.
The yogic purpose of pratyahara is to make the mind still so you can concentrate. Withdrawing the senses helps you to come into the present moment without any filters. In other words, this practice guides you to arrive in a blank state without projections, a place where you simply are. According to B.K.S. Iyengar you can test how difficult this limb is by going for a walk and at the same time try not to comment or judge or even name what you see hear or smell. It seems doable not to attach the word ‘beautiful’ to a colourful bird flying around, but what about not to let yourself name the objects – such as trees and flowers – that seems way more challenging.
If you practice pratyahara you are withdrawing from the external world without completely losing contact with it. You still register input form your sense organs – such as sounds that occur around you – but these inputs do not create disturbance in your body or mind. There seems to be a space between the sensory stimulus or the world around you and your response. Ultimately, the practice of pratyahara enables you to choose your responses instead of merely reacting. So this means you remain in the middle of a stimulating environment and consciously decide not to react, but instead choose how to respond.
In our modern society, withdrawing of our senses is challenging because of the overload of sensory inputs we receive everyday. You can practice pratyahara by sitting quietly for some time and try to withdraw the sensory awareness inside by maintaining the witness of your projections and thoughts. Other suggestions for incorporating the practice at a very basic every-day level could be;
– Turn off your smart phone and any other electronic devices for at least an hour.
– Instead sit in your living room and pay attention to your breathing and how your body is feeling.
– Or read an interesting book and give it your full undivided attention.
– Stop mindlessly reading news. Most news are upsetting and there is not much you can do about it and it clutters your mind as well as pulls your senses outwards.
– Eat in silence or talk only if necessary.
– Try to go for a walk in the nature regularly.
For sure, pratyahara offers many methods of preparing the mind for meditation. It is a marvellous tool to take control of your automatic responses and open up to your inner being. So try to introduce a silent dinner at home and aim to walk in the forest in a ‘blank state’. Good luck and do not forget to smile!