The fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga, is Pratyahara. Pratyahara is an important bridge between the external focus of the previous limbs of yoga, such as asana (postures) and pranayama (breath exercises) to the more advanced practices of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). Pratyahara literally means withdrawing from the senses, to gain control over the senses to bring about calmness, peace and stillness.
Prati meaning “against” or “withdraw”, and ahara meaning “food” or referring to anything we take in from the outside. Pratyahara also helps to provide an understanding of how much the mind is influenced by sensory input, imprisoned by the senses. Dictating our thoughts and feelings in ‘feeding’ it leading it to be trapped in the Kleshas, mental/emotional afflictions that continue the wheel of suffering. Our practice is to stop feeding the mind the things that keep it ignorance of it’s true nature, stuck in ignorance, attachment, aversion, egotism and fear. Encouraging the mind in a kind way to turn inwards and use the senses to be of service to the pursuit of practice, gaining mastery over external influences and allowing the practitioner to connect with their inner world, thereby creating optimal conditions for self-realization.
We use our senses to understand the world around and within us. External sensing are usually concerned about spatial orientation, position, balance, motion, what causes pain and pleasure. Internal sensing hunger, thirst, breathing changes, temperature, nausea, pleasure and pain. As we are Yoga students, we are learning how to reunite our mind to it’s body through the techniques of practice. As students we are learning. It is said that we learn 75% visually, 13% by listening, 6% through touch, 3% through taste and 3% through smell. What are we trying to learn in Yoga, how to skilfully take action with loving awareness to find liberation, freedom or a peaceful stillness where we just abide in union with consciousness embodied.
Patanjali’s Map of the Mind
- Indriyas – Cognitive Senses
- Manas – Lower, Reactive Mind
- Citta – Samskaras – Impressions or Memories, Vasanas – Habitual Tendencies, Vrittis – Roaming Tendencies
- Ahamkara – Ego Functions, I-Maker
- Buddhi – Inner Guide, Intuition, Higher Mind, Wisdom Mind
The idea of practice is to purify the Indriyas, calm the Manas, dissolve the Ahamkara, neutralise the Citta, and sharpen the Buddhi.
Yoga Sutras points out 5 Kleshas, mental emotional afflictions we all will struggle with;
- Avidya – Ignorance,
- Asmita – Egotism,
- Raga – Attachment,
- Dvesa – Avoidance,
- Abinivesha – Fear of loss, change and death
Yoga Sutra 1:31 states the 4 symptoms of suffering observed in practice manifests as:
- Negative thinking
- Emotional distress
- Instability in the body
- Disturbances in the breath that mirror the mind
The solution is Yoga Sutra 1.29 says to move inwards and then Yoga Sutra 1.32 to focus on one thing at a time.
Yoga Sutra 1.33 Cultivate
- Non-judgemental loving awareness – Upekshanam,
- Friendliness – Maitri,
- Joy – Mudito happiness – Sukka
- Compassion – Karuna
- Indriya pratyahara: Withdraw the senses inwards, reducing the sensory input
- Prana pratyahara: Regulating the flow of your breath and therefore the movement of your energy/Prana, so that you can avoid focusing too much of that energy on your senses interpreting the outer world and inner distractions.
- Karma pratyahara: This is the control of action. In asana reducing any unnecessary movement.
- Mano pratyahara: Withdrawal of the mind by using techniques to still the roaming tendencies of the mind and rest in the quietude of the stillness of pure consciousness.
Ultimately, why we are practicing Yoga Asana is to experience Kaya Nirodha, Prana Nirodha and Citta Vritti Nirodha. Physical, energetic and mental stillness. Practicing Yoga to attain the state of Yoga.
How we are going to do this is with the help of a Mudra or seal. Buddha Mudra Smiling. I hope you join me in practice!
*My wrist is wrapped up to offer myself support as I fell and waiting for it to heal. So I might be demonstrating different things on my hand that is injured. Please follow the healthy hand*