Pratyahara


When we start to explore the concept of pratyahara, we’re at a notable place in our practice of yoga.  …





Pratyahara is the 5th stage of sage Patanjali’s 8-limbed Ashtanga Yoga, which we could refer to as “withdrawing the senses away from the external surroundings and distractions.”

It can also be thought of as the point of transition from the bahiranga, or ‘external’ aspects of yoga, to the antaranga, or ‘internal’ yoga.  In a deeper sense, we could even say that it is with this ‘controlled withdrawing of the senses’ that ‘Real Yoga’ begins.

All of the techniques, exercises and trainings in our yoga practice thus far, including the first 4 stages of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, have been systematically designed to condition the body, the emotions and the mind for ‘yoga’, or the more subtle, inner practices of dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (mystic absorption), the 6th, 7th and 8th limbs of yoga.

The Roll of the Senses

The senses are our conduits to the external world. They allow the world around us to come into our minds, which obviously is important, especially if we want to make a sandwich, cross the street without getting run over, or otherwise successfully negotiate our way through our day-to-day lives.

But in this day and age, the onslaught of sensory input can be a dangerous affair too. We’re all absorbing a startling amount images and inputs at a relentless pace these days — many of which are projecting messages into our subconsciousness that are far from wholesome and nurturing.

A child learns how to think, how to feel, and what attitudes to take about the world from the messages it receives via the senses — and it is troubling to see just what kind of messages these innocent young ones are constantly being bombarded with.

… After all, the senses are like a mirror — turned outward they reflect the outside world; turned inward they reflect the purity and peace of the ‘Higher Mind’.

… So one should not be surprised at the increasing degradation of moral and ethical values in the world today, along with rising psychological and emotional instability in successive generations of the modern age… a direct result of our inability to control the senses, withdraw them from the often relentlessly negative influences of our external environment, and to turn them ‘inward’ toward ‘Higher Consciousness’.

Controlling the Senses

The very principle of pratyahara lies upon the fact that we do have the ability to limit or influence our ‘sensory input’. We can easily observe this fact…

… For instance, the clock on the wall may be ticking all day, but we may, at certain times not hear it when our attention is turned elsewhere.

… Or, when travelling down the road in a car the eyes are bombarded with hundreds of objects, yet we ‘register’ only a fraction of them within our brain.

Inputs from innumerable objects in our external world are constantly invading our sense organs, yet our attention remains limited to a mere few at a time.

But still, this form of pratyahara remains an ‘involuntary’ form, such as when one may become engrossed in a book and becomes unaware of any activity or sounds around them. In these cases, although ‘sensory isolation’ is attained, it happens unconsciously and there is still something within the ‘external world’ that the mind is concentrated upon.

In pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses is intentional, while at the same time the mind has no object of attraction in the external world.

Why Controlling the Senses is Important

In Raja Yoga (the ‘highest yoga’), the yogi endeavours to completely shut out this ‘external world’ so that the he/she will have his/her mind alone to deal with.

… Why?  Because it is within the depth of the subconscious mind that the origins and roots of all our humanly limitations exist.

Until we can control the senses (the vehicles of our mental distractions) we will be unable to concentrate… and hence unable to arrive at the higher stage of Dhyana (meditation), which is what we are ultimately pursuing in our yoga practice.

[continued]

Without control of the senses… we are distracted

… When we’re distracted, we cannot concentration

… Without concentration, there is no meditation

… And without meditation… there is no yoga!

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