Personalizing Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the fifth limb in Patanjali’s 8-limbed ashtanga yoga system and is literally translated as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses”. To be honest, it is one of the “limbs” that I least understood. The basic tenets of saucha (wisdom), santosha (contentment), asana (stead and effortless pose) and pranayama (breathing) can be understood and embraced but what exactly does pratyahara require of the yoga practitioner? How does one withdraw one’s senses?

We live in a world where our senses are stimulated on every side. We’re hooked up to the internet all day long and bombarded with loads of information about people and places we might never meet or visit. We become used to the constant chatter of voices, vehicles and construction and we have a never ending to-do list. I know when I go home one of the first things I do is to turn on the TV and check out what’s on today’s news. Our senses are stimulated all the time, everywhere. We could retreat to an ashram or live out our days in a cave but for most of us those are not tenable solutions.

So in our everyday life, perhaps pratyahara is about sensing the stimuli but choosing not to react to that stimuli in the way that the stimulus would want us to react. So it’s a little bit like creating a space between the sensing of the stimulus and our response to the stimulus. I like what yoga teacher Judith Lasater said in her yoga journal article “Return to Stillness” that ”practicing pratyahara doesn’t mean running away from stimulation (which is basically impossible). Rather practicing pratyahara means remaining in the middle of a stimulating environment and consciously not reacting, but instead choosing how to respond”.

I deal with alot of crises in my work. I think consciously practicing pratyahara would help me to not feel overwhelmed but be able to take a step back or withdraw from the stimulus or crisis in question, find my center and inner calm and choose my response carefully. That’s why I titled this post personalizing pratyahara because I think there is no ONE way where we choose to withdraw our senses. For some of us the particular struggle might be in the area of not giving in too much to the stimulus that certain food brings or for some of us it might be choosing to stay in a certain difficult asana even though our senses want to give up and get out.

I think I understand pratyahara a little bit more now. 🙂