The term pratyahara is composed of two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara. Ahara is defined as “food” or “anything we take into ourselves from the outside.” Prati is a preposition meaning “against” or “away. Together, Pratyahara refers to the “control of ahara,” or “gaining mastery over external influences.” Pratayahara is the fifth limb of yoga coming after Pranayama (Breathing techniques) and before Dharana (Focused attention). Control of the senses requires the development and control of prana because the senses follow prana(our vital energy). Unless our prana is strong, we will not have the power to control the senses. If our prana is scattered or disturbed, our senses will also be scattered and disturbed. Once we are able to gain control of our senses, only then can we enter a state of ultimate focus. There are four main forms of pratyahara: indriya-pratyahara — control of the senses; prana- pratyahara — control of prana; karma-pratyahara — control of action; and mano-pratyahara — withdrawal of mind from the senses.
Sometimes, when I entertain a negative thought such as a disagreement with someone at work or a deficiency mindset, these thoughts can create a chain of negative thoughts which can result in me being overwhelmed in negative emotions. This is my mind without purposeful control. When I apply pratyahara to my life now, I see things just as it is, not through the lens of good or bad. I don’t overly dwell on negative and positive experiences. I feel the emotions and let them go. I don’t let my emotions dictate how I react and behave.
In the past, I realized how social media and constantly watching Netflix has negatively influenced me. The modern world has a plethora full of senses. Humans no longer create but consume mindlessly. By practicing pratyahara through the control of my senses, I significantly reduce the time spent on television, social media, and the internet. Instead, I find solace in taking walks in nature without my phone. Therefore, my senses are not overloaded.
Through the control of action, I understand that true happiness does not lie in getting what we want from the external world. True happiness only comes from yourself. All other external things can be enjoyed but not relied on for happiness. I used to think that when I could finally travel after covid then I will be happy but when that time came, I realized that I am still as unhappy as I was in Singapore. By doing my inner work, inner happiness from myself resulted, and I could rely on this inner happiness even when I’m not travelling. Pratyahara doesn’t mean don’t seek out pleasures in life but instead find happiness in yourself and enjoy these pleasures but don’t be confused from where real happiness comes from.