Pratyahara is the 5th limb from the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga yoga which talks about the withdrawal of the senses from object and subjects, directing inward consciousness.

Yoga Sutra 2.54:

sva vishaya asamprayoge chittasya svarupe anukarah iva indriyanam pratyaharah

Translated by Reverend Jaganath Carrera (2006): 

When the senses withdraw themselves from the objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of mind-stuff, this is pratyahara.

Selective commentaries by Reverend Jaganath Carrera (2006) which are important to my understanding of this sutra:

“The senses do not function independently of the mind – when the attention is pulled inward, they disconnect from their objects and also go within. Without the union of the mind and senses, no perception can take place. Pratyahara eliminates an entire category of mental impressions – sensory awareness – allowing the mind to examine more subtle aspects of mental content and activity. Pratyahara not only prepares the mind for meditation but also enhances the enjoyment of life through the sense. Pratyahara brings the freedom of mastery.”

Pratyahara as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita:

B.G. 2.61: But the yogi learns to control the senses by meditating on me (Lord Krishna) as the highest goal. As the senses come under control, the yogi’s wisdom becomes steady

B.G. 6.12: Then sit and calm the mind and senses by concentrating on one thing: thus you practice Yoga (i.e. meditation) for self-purification.

In both instances, control of the senses is not attained by pulling the mind away from sense object, but control of the senses is attained by redirecting attention toward something elevating, such as to cultivate non-attachment, discipline, discrimination, memory and courage.

Personal remarks

As I embark into my 3rd year of regular yoga practice, Pratyahara begins to hit me. After developing a stronger sense of awareness within myself, I begin to experience the withdrawal of senses. I noticed that the so-called love in romantic relationships was just a feeling that people are emotionally attached to, which is not real and unnecessary. I noticed that the so-called beautiful people or sceneries was a delusion that speaks nothing of inner beauty. I noticed that the so-called music and lyrics are often a depiction of falsified thoughts which deliberately stirs our emotions. I noticed that the so-called fragrances are merely seductive tools to cloud our mind into creating thoughts and feelings on a particular person. Nothing is truly real if we allow our senses to take control of our mind.

In addition, one thing that always cross my mind is that I don’t understand the obsession with most people about eating – majority of the modern population always wants to have the most delicious/fanciest/freshest/healthiest food. It is as though eating those food can make them immortal. It is as though eating a cheap commoner’s food will shorten and tarnish your life. One major factor is because food has the ability to capture all our five senses, making it even harder to resist temptation (myself included). Many people are blinding queuing after the newest restaurants, hippiest cafes and fanciest bars, just because their minds have been intoxicated by their five senses. Food should serve their purpose – as food for the stomach. There shouldn’t be any form of attachment or indulgence or overeating. Whether you’re having a cup of tea for $0.50 or $20, the cup of tea is still the same cup of tea; it goes into our body and becomes eliminated in a couple of hours.

To cultivate our mind deeper towards one-pointedness, it is important for all of us to focus our mind on ourselves while removing the mind from our sense organs. We have to learn to be detach from our attachment to food, drinks, sense of touch, material objects, smell and music/voices. We have to learn to see through these sensory stimulants and identify the primary functions of them. To a certain extent, we have to learn Kurmasana, become a turtle, and detach ourselves from the outside world.

For anyone who are interested to learn more about the Yoga Sutra with English commentaries, I recommend a book entitled “Inside the Yoga Sutras” written by Reverend Jaganath Carrera.