Pratyahara: Sense Withdrawal

Pratyahara:  Withdrawl of the Senses
Pratyahara is described as withdrawl from the 5 senses (taste, touch, sight, sound, smell).  It is derived from the Sanskrit words “prata”, which means away from/against, and “ahara”, which means food, or anything taken into ourselves.  Pratyahara links the external aspects of yoga (yamas/niyamas, asana, pranayama) with the internal (meditation, enlightenment).  It is the 5th step in the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga.  The 8 limbs/steps are performed sequentially, as the mastery of each one is required to move to the next level.  To achieve pratyahara, the mind must first be turned inward—only then can the senses (indriyas) follow.  Pratyahara is a mental function and involves both cognition and expression (physical and astral planes)—so one must suspend both external stimulation of senses and those within the mind.  This means that one must go beyond reducing external stimuli (closing eyes, sitting in a quiet place, touching as little as possible) but must extend into what is going on in the mind (“seeing” with the mind’s eye, for example).  Pratayahara is described in yoga sutras 2.54, 2.55.

2.54 When the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas) cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in their mental realm, and assimilate or turn back into the mind-field from which they arose, this is called pratyahara, and is the fifth step.
(sva vishaya asamprayoge chittasya svarupe anukarah iva indriyanam pratyaharah)
2.55 Through that turning inward of the organs of senses and actions (indriyas) also comes a supreme ability, controllability, or mastery over those senses inclining to go outward towards their objects.
(tatah parama vashyata indriyanam)

 “Clinging” to the action of sensing will hinder the mind from withdrawl and does not lead to meditation.  Continuing sensory function (internal or external) is merely relaxation.  Pratyahara is the suspension of both.  One must train the mind to turn inward and suspend sense gratification on the astral plane—where the mind goes, the physical senses will follow.  For example:  Breaking a bad habit.  Habits arise from gratification of the physical senses.  To completely stop the action can lead to suppression and frustration.  Using the principles of pratyahara, if the mental “habit” can broken first, physical will follow.  By withdrawing from the sensory stimulus, the mind is taking control of the sensory function and desire on a physical level is lost.
Pratyahara practices include:
Pranayama—the focus is solely on the breath, turning attention inward
Concentration or Visualization of the 3rd eye (Ajna Chakra)
Focus on one sense only.  The mind will naturally roam between the senses.  By pinpointing one and focusing on that sense only, the mind will eventually tire of it and withdraw.
Advanced practitioners can stop nerve impulses from reaching their centers in the brain through pranayama and thus “turn off” nerves.
The final form of Pratyahara is to withdraw attention from anything that is unwholesome and distracting for the mind.  The practitioner will thus lose the desire for things he/she formerly used to gratify the senses and will have less attachments. 
References: 

  1. Swamij.com  “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2.54, 2.55.  Pratyahara or sense withdrawl…”
  2. Wikipedia.com  “Pratyahara”

Ahimsa

Yoga Sutra 2.35 says”ahimsā pratishthāyām tat vaira-tyāgah”.

  • ahimsa = non-violence, non-harming, non-injury
  • pratishthāyām = having firmly established, being well grounded in
  • tat = that, of his or her
  • vaira-tyāgah = give up hostilities (vaira = hostility, enmity, aggression; tyāga = abandon, give up

When translated into English, it means – “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility”.

Ahimsa, traditionally translated to non-violence or non-injury, is the first Yama (restraints). Non-violence, non-injury, extends to others, nature and ourselves. One may think of non-violence in a physical situation, but again, life is more than this. What about our actions, language, and even our thoughts? The mind is difficult to control. Thoughts of a violent nature, toward ourselves or others, can occur and spin out of control. An important lesson to learn here is to differentiate between truth and “chatter”. Truth tends to be penetrating, direct, and without a lot of words. Whereas chatter tends to be just the opposite – disturbing, noisy and senseless.

Ahimsa, as an emotional practice, involves one’s ability to deal with the feelings of anger and its various subtleties. Anger is an emotion that demands change. When it is left to simmer, it can lead to all kinds of resentment, sulking, tantrums, and irrational fear. Anger is the emotion that underlies any level of hostility, outrage, or violent behaviour, so it must be dealt with immediately and not be denied or ignored. If we can recognise and experience anger simply as a kind of energy, we will be able see and then choose another way of feeling and behaving. The key is to come face to face with the intentions of violence, hatred, or fear, accept them and the hostility within us can then be neutralised.

Question: What does Ahimsa in yoga practice mean?

For many of us, it means backing off and learning to let the competitive ego go. Many yoga practitioners believe that pushing their bodies beyond the limit is a mental win. But yoga is not about competition. There is no competitiveness in yoga. In fact, we need to focus on ourselves – not on other people – while practising.

In my first few years of yoga practice, I pushed myself a lot, breathed through the pain and ignored the injuries in my left hamstring. It affected me physically and mentally. I could not do simple poses like paschimottanasana and uttanasana properly. I was frustrated and angry with myself so I disregarded the pain and continued to push myself further. I feared that I would not be able to advance in my yoga practice because of the injury. My morale was hit and I did not feel good after every class. The consequence of my ignorance and egoism – my right hamstring was also injured. I deceived myself by continuing with the practice despite the injuries, thinking that miracle would happen one day and the pain in my hamstrings would disappear. Then one day, I decided to stop the “nonsense” and “listen to my body” during the practice. I realized I need to do less to get more. So I bent my knees in poses like paschimottanasana and uttanasana. I stopped pushing when I felt sharp pain (and not a stretch) in my hamstrings or any parts of my body. I began to practise awareness in yoga classes. The pain in my hamstring went away a few months later and I felt better physically and mentally in my yoga practice thereafter. I have learned that modifying postures to compensate for injuries, weakness, or a low energy level is practising ahimsa on our mats. Rather than gaining satisfaction from fancy postures and physical feats, I find that consistent practice that matches breath to movement is what that benefits us the most and makes the most changes in us.

The challenge in a yoga practice is not in pushing ourselves and learning not to compete with ourselves is a more difficult skill. The challenge is this – rather than push ourselves physically to gain a mental benefit, consider that we can do the same by practicing Ahimsa. It might just change the way we practise yoga and transform our practice…and us. Once we have learned to practise ahimsa and compassion with ourselves, and to let go of our messy egos and their expectations, then we have become true yoga practitioner. The mark of an advanced yoga practitioner is not that he or she can wrap his leg behind his head. It is that he/she treats his/her body as the valuable temple that houses his/her mind and spirit.

Start practising Ahimsa on the mat today! It will go a long way to making you not only learn more about yourself, but challenge you in new ways you never thought possible.

Yoga is a journey and not a process.

Namaste.

Significance of 108

Significance of 108

The Indian Subcontinent rosary or set of mantra counting has 108 beads. 108 has been a sacred number in the Indian Subcontinent for a very long time. This number is explained in many different ways.
The ancient Indians were excellent mathematicians and 108 may be the product of a precise mathematical operation (e.g. 1 power 1 x 2 power 2 x 3 power 3 = 108) which was thought to have special numerological significance.
Powers of 1, 2, and 3 in math: 1 to 1st power=1; 2 to 2nd power=4 (2×2); 3 to 3rd power=27 (3x3x3). 1x4x27=108
Sanskrit alphabet: There are 54 letters in the Sanskrit alphabet. Each has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti. 54 times 2 is 108.
Sri Yantra: On the Sri Yantra there are marmas where three lines intersect, and there are 54 such intersections. Each intersections has masculine and feminine, shiva and shakti qualities. 54 x 2 equals 108. Thus, there are 108 points that define the Sri Yantra as well as the human body.
9 times 12: Both of these numbers have been said to have spiritual significance in many traditions. 9 times 12 is 108. Also, 1 plus 8 equals 9. That 9 times 12 equals 108.
Heart Chakra: The chakras are the intersections of energy lines, and there are said to be a total of 108 energy lines converging to form the heart chakra. One of them, sushumna leads to the crown chakra, and is said to be the path to Self-realization.
Marmas: Marmas or marmastanas are like energy intersections called chakras, except have fewer energy lines converging to form them. There are said to be 108 marmas in the subtle body.
Time: Some say there are 108 feelings, with 36 related to the past, 36 related to the present, and 36 related to the future.
Astrology: There are 12 constellations, and 9 arc segments called namshas or chandrakalas. 9 times 12 equals 108. Chandra is moon, and kalas are the divisions within a whole.
Planets and Houses: In astrology, there are 12 houses and 9 planets. 12 times 9 equals 108.
Gopis of Krishna: In the Krishna tradition, there were said to be 108 gopis or maid servants of Krishna.
1, 0, and 8: 1 stands for God or higher Truth, 0 stands for emptiness or completeness in spiritual practice, and 8 stands for infinity or eternity.
Sun and Earth: The diameter of the sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth.
Numerical scale: The 1 of 108, and the 8 of 108, when added together equals 9, which is the number of the numerical scale, i.e. 1, 2, 3 … 10, etc., where 0 is not a number.
Smaller divisions: The number 108 is divided, such as in half, third, quarter, or twelfth, so that some malas have 54, 36, 27, or 9 beads.
Islam: The number 108 is used in Islam to refer to God.
Jain: In the Jain religion, 108 are the combined virtues of five categories of holy ones, including 12, 8, 36, 25, and 27 virtues respectively.
Sikh: The Sikh tradition has a mala of 108 knots tied in a string of wool, rather than beads.
Chinese: The Chinese Buddhists and Taoists use a 108 bead mala, which is called su-chu, and has three dividing beads, so the mala is divided into three parts of 36 each.
Stages of the soul: Said that Atman, the human soul or center goes through 108 stages on the journey.
Meru: This is a larger bead, not part of the 108. It is not tied in the sequence of the other beads. It is the quiding bead, the one that marks the beginning and end of the mala.
Dance: There are 108 forms of dance in the Indian traditions.
Pythagorean: The nine is the limit of all numbers, all others existing and coming from the same. ie: 0 to 9 is all one needs to make up an infinite amount of numbers.
Llisted below 108 Upanishads as per the list contained in the Muktikopanishad . We have arranged them in four categories according to the particular Veda to which each of them belong.
Rigveda(10): Aitareya , Atmabodha, Kaushitaki, Mudgala, Nirvana, Nadabindu, Akshamaya, Tripura, Bahvruka, Saubhagyalakshmi.
Yajurveda(50): Katha, Taittiriya , Isavasya , Brihadaranyaka, Akshi, Ekakshara, Garbha, Prnagnihotra, Svetasvatara, Sariraka, Sukarahasya, Skanda, Sarvasara, Adhyatma, Niralamba, Paingala, Mantrika, Muktika, Subala, Avadhuta, Katharudra, Brahma, Jabala, Turiyatita, Paramahamsa, Bhikshuka, Yajnavalkya, Satyayani, Amrtanada, Amrtabindu, Kshurika, Tejobindu, Dhyanabindu, Brahmavidya, YogakundalinI, Yogatattva, Yogasikha, Varaha, Advayataraka, Trisikhibrahmana, mandalabrahmana, Hamsa, Kalisantaraaa, Narayana, Tarasara, Kalagnirudra, Dakshinamurti, Pancabrahma, Rudrahrdaya, SarasvatIrahasya.
SamaVeda(16): Kena, Chandogya, Mahat, Maitrayani, Vajrasuci, Savitri, Aruneya, Kundika, Maitreyi, Samnyasa, Jabaladarsana, Yogacudaman, Avyakta, Vasudevai, Jabali, Rudrakshajabala.
Atharvaveda(32): Prasna , Mandukya, Mundaka, Atma, Surya, Narada-Parivrajakas, Parabrahma, Paramahamsa-Parivrajakas, Pasupatha-Brahma, Mahavakya, Sandilya, Krishna, Garuda, Gopalatapani, Tripadavibhuti-mahnarayana, Dattatreya, Kaivalya, NrsimhatapanI, Ramatapani, Ramarahasya, HayagrIva, Atharvasikha, Atharvasira, Ganapati, Brhajjabala, Bhasmajabala, Sarabha, Annapurna, TripuratapanI, Devi, Bhavana, SIta.

The Cause of Suffering

The Cause of Suffering: The Kleshas

The Buddha says life is suffering; both the ancient yogis and the Buddhists point to the kleshas as the causes of our suffering. These “afflictions” distort our mind and our perceptions effecting how we think, act and feel. The five main kleshas vary in intensity on our psyche, from being inconsequential in their effect to utter blindness. The kleshas not only create suffering, but are said to bind us to the endless cycle of birth and rebirth, and thus preventing us from achieving enlightenment.
Avidya (ignorance) is the misconception of our true reality, believing that the temporary is eternal, the impure is the pure, and pleasure to be painful. This false representation of reality is the root klesha and produces the four others.
Asmita (I-am-ness) is the identification of ourselves with our ego. We create a self-image of ourselves that we believe is us, but it is not us. This self-image can contain both external (I am poor) and internal (I am a bad person) false projections. We become trapped within the projections we have created of our life.
Raga (attachment) is the attraction for things that bring satisfaction to oneself. Our desire for pleasurable experiences creates mindless actions and blind sighted vision. When we cannot obtain what we desire, we suffer. When we do obtain what we desire, our feelings of pleasure soon fade and we begin our search for pleasure again, becoming trapped in a endless cycle.
Dvesha (repulsion) is the opposite of raga, aversion towards things that produce unpleasant experiences. If we cannot avoid the things we dislike, we suffer. Even thinking about unpleasant experiences produces suffering.
Abhinivesha (will to live) is the deepest and most universal klesha, remaining with us until our deaths. We know that one day we will indeed die, yet our fear of death is a deeply buried in our unconsciousness.
The first stage of working with the kleshas is to simply acknowledge them. Reflection promotes self-awareness, self-understanding and self-knowledge to uncover and see the kleshas and their roots as well as how they create suffering.
The direct opposition of concentration and other yogic techniques can counteract simple kleshas. Gross kleshas are overcome with meditation, tapas and seeking wisdom. Yogic techniques are said to burn away the impurities of the kleshas to purify the mind. By ridding ourselves of our kleshas, we are able to clearly see the reality of the world and our own true nature.

If someone gives you a belief system, he is the enemy

It took a while for people to believe that the world is round instead of flat, and that the sun is the center of the solar system instead of the earth. It took some proof. Then almost everyone believed, and the rush was on to find all the benefits in the new knowledge, the new paradigm.
Now it is time for us to come to grips with the fact that the human nervous system is the center of all spiritual experience and all divine bliss. That is your nervous system, the one you are sitting in right now. The sooner we get used to the idea that each of us is a direct gateway to the divine, the better it will be for everyone. As with the acceptance of any knowledge, it takes some proof. In this case, the proof is in you. Open a few doors here and there by doing some effective yoga practices and you will see what you are. Then the rush will be on to open it all up. A new paradigm is born!
Nothing is new, you know. Our ancient ancestors knew of these things. Much of it was written down. But communications were poor, and people lived so much in superstition. It is different now. We can find any information we want. There are so many doors of knowledge opening to everyone. The old wisdom is becoming new again. The human nervous system hasn’t changed over all this time. It has been waiting patiently, like a treasure chest longing to be opened. It is time.