“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” ~ Helen Keller
Today, with the fifth limb of yoga, we move from the external practice of yoga to the internal. Pratyahara means to withdraw from the stimuli of the external senses and go within. This is probably a puzzling idea and difficult for newbies to associate or incorporate into their practice.
Pratyahara can be difficult to practice. B.K. S. Iyengar reportedly stated a difficulty test of pratyahara is to go on a country walk and try not to judge, comment or even name what you see, feel or smell. Sounds nearly impossible!
There are several ways to practice this sense withdrawal. During yoga asana practice stop thinking about whether or not you should hold the pose longer, or thoughts about whatever your mind is busy with, and just concentrate on the pose itself. Another good way to begin experiencing this is at the end of yoga practice in savasana, or corpse pose. This time of relaxation at the end of practice is a good chance to practice pratyahara. Take those moments to “go within” as Deepak Chopra says. Concentrate on your breathing and let the thoughts go, not camping on any one thing. It takes practice and time just like with any other endeavor, but the value is immeasurable.
In yoga philosophy everyone has five levels of consciousness or “sheaths”. Think of them as the layers of an onion. The first is the physical body, then the prana or energy sheath, the mental sheath, the consciousness sheath where the ego resides, and finally what I like to call the soul sheath. As relaxation occurs in savasana, let the body relax and go through the layers, relax the body and musculature, focus on the breath, then let the thought process go, finally mentally looking inside yourself. While in this meditative state you are not a zombie you hear and sense things going on around you but are not affected or reactive to them.
Pratyahara is not some mystical realm, it is creating space. Just as the asana practice helps to create space in our physical bodies for health, pratyahara practice helps to create space in our minds and emotions. A place between our reactions to stimuli and our surroundings. It is a “pause button” that once practiced can be used in our everyday lives to give us pause, before giving a knee-jerk reaction to an event or circumstance.
So take pause, realize that you are more than your surroundings or circumstances. You are a magnificent creation of God, with choices given every new day of how you will react and live your life.