Pratyahara

After Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, and Pranayama, Patanjali describes withdrawing the senses as one of the limbs of the path. Pratyahara is essentially the bridge limb between the external to the internal limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. The first four limbs are fairly straight forward. The restraints and observances can be debated regarding their exact meanings, but the general concepts are well defined. The next two limbs, Asana and Pranayama, are also tangible concepts consisting of practicing a set of poses and breathing methods.

However, as we move on to Partyahara, it is necessary to begin to turn inward and the prescriptions for practice become less visible from the outside. We can in some instances use the other limbs to assist in the withdrawal of senses. For example, when we practice Pranayama, we turn our focus inward and the external senses begin to diminish. During asana practice, we also focus on the pose or the dristi of the pose and begin to withdrawal the senses gradually.

By gaining mastery over the senses, we can work to cease the obsession we sometimes experience during the times when senses control us. But this mastery does not mean that we are required to supress or repress the senses. Although during meditation and pranayama the senses may gradually decrease, the idea is to cease connecting the thought patterns and allow the thoughts to flow freely without any interference from the senses. As the senses begin to tame, we can continue to develop concentration, meditation, and Samadhi. However, without facing our senses, this obstacle will continue to delay us on our path.