Pratyahara is perhaps one of the most difficult of the eight limbs of yoga to explain, as well as to attain. Although the practice is commonly defined as 'withdrawal of the senses', how do we actually do this in a world where our senses are subjected to constant bombardment?
External and internal noise
Pratya means to ‘withdraw’, or ‘draw back’ and ahara refers to anything we ‘take in’ such as the various sights, sounds and smells our senses are continuously seduced by. These distractions are not just limited to the outside world - sometimes the noise of our internal chatter can be just as deafening!
According to Patanjali, at a certain point these distractions (vrittis) start to become a hindrance to our practice and to attain a level of introspection necessary for deep meditation we need to learn to ignore all of the external stimuli and internal chatter.
This of course, can be quite challenging. We are so used to to reacting to the continuous barrage of stimuli and to pushing our energy (prana) outwards, that it can be difficult when we sit in meditation to go IN.
Reversing the flow
The phrase ‘sense withdrawal’ seems to imply that we should somehow be able to switch our senses ‘off’, which is why this aspect of practice is often misunderstood. Instead, the practice changes our state of mind so that we become so absorbed with what we’re focussing on inside, that the things outside of ourselves no longer distract us.
Awakening the inside world
Of course, in the beginning, this may be really difficult, but with a little practise we can become attuned to those internal things that are, in Anat's words, "so much more fascinating and entertaining and beautiful than anything our senses can perceive".
There are many traditions that work with the body, mind, breath and offer us an ethical 'code' or guide, but it's the practice of Pratyahara which specifically encourages us to pull prana within to awaken our inside world. And it’s this ability to be able to be fully absorbed with the wonder of what is going on inside - despite all of the ‘noise’ - which makes yoga unique.
More on the Eight Limbs of Yoga...
Guided programme: for a good grasp of each of the eight limbs through informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation, EkhartYoga members can follow our Eight Limbs of Yoga programme.
Further reading: The Eight Limbs of Yogas explained.