Pratyahara: Withdrawal from the Senses

Just breathe.  This was the message I’ve been telling myself over the past week for more reasons than one.  The focus of my week’s practice was to reflect on Pranayama (the fourth limb in Ashatanga) and its importance.  But in addition, my son just started day care.   For anyone who’s experienced, day care, there’s a wealth of emotions that intermingle including guilt, obligation, sadness and relief.

There’s the guilt when you watch your young child cry at the door for their parent, confused about why you’re leaving them with strangers.  There’s the feeling of neglecting your obligation to your child even when you recognize that there is a purpose for day care.  In my situation, I’ve begun teaching again and my writing career is beginning to flourish.  For both of these needs, day care is required.

And of course, there’s a lot of doubt (both self-doubt and external).  Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right move for me and for my child? Could this be done in any other way?

Lastly, there is a sense of relief because in a way day care represents a transition to a life (that in my situation, was a bit more familiar).  Of course, when this relief came the guilt quickly followed and the cycle began again.

Anyhow, when I was going through all of these personal stressors, I reflected on my focus for the week (breathing).  And so I took the time to take those deep pranayamic breaths.  And the one thing that I discovered is that breathing is incredibly healing.

Incorporating deep full breaths allowed me to:

  • Focus on the task at hand
  • Expel the negative tension of the morning
  • Recognize the areas in my body that were holding tension
  • Relax both my brain and body
  • Increase my overall energy

I’m sure there are more examples, but what I really wanted to get across is that even without the asanas, the breathe is an incredible, healing, powerful tool.  When you are able to pair the breathe with the asanas the effects are even more dramatic.

This week, I’m extending my focus to the fifth limb: Pratyahara (withdrawal from the senses).  So what is this fifth limb and how I’m going to accomplish this progression in a still fairly stressful week?

Pratyahara typically occurs during meditation, the breathing and the asanas.  It is about leaving the sensory input/output from the external world behind.  It is about letting things go and simply being.    Practicing pratyahara leads to the path of self-realization, achievement and inevitably inner peace.

A World of Sensory Overload

As difficult as it is to achieve, Pratyahara is a necessary tool to incorporate in today’s world.  Just think about all the sensory information that you receive on a daily, and even hourly basis.  There is the constant beeping/vibrating of emails, text messages, tweets, and phone calls.  When you walk outside there is the aroma of nature, but there is also the scents of cooking, the fumes of transportation and all the other smells that create your day.   How often do you have the TV on or music on simply for back ground noise? How often do you speak simply to fill the silence? What sights are your eyes bombarded with on a daily basis? What do you touch?

Step 1: Take Note of Your Senses

To begin my process of Pratyahara, I’m going to take the time to reflect on all the stimulus that is around me.  Is there anyway that I can reduce the noise, smell, sights, tastes and things I touch in my environment? If you’re like me, at times there is so much going on that I’m not able to appreciate any of it.

So my first task for this week is to become more aware.  I’m going to talk about the senses with my children and spend the time focusing on what types of stimulation are occurring in our body.

Step 2: Simplify

Once I know what’s out there, I’m going to try to tone things down.  Here are some ways that I’m going to do this:

1)   Remove background noise (music/TV)

2)   Use non fragrant creams/washes/deodorant

3)   Eat simpler, less processed foods

4)   Take the time to reflect on the tastes, scents of foods

5)   Touch with intention (make contacts meaningful)

6)   Incorporate a moment of silence (eyes closed, deep breathing) both in the morning and in the evening

7)   Journal on the new experience

8)   Limit cell phone/internet/news to necessities and certain time frames

9)   Speak with intention: Enjoy the moments of non chatter

10)    Continue to Breathe

Pratyahara is not a simple practice, partially because the world we live in has become so sensory complex.  However, there are different ways to incorporate moments of this experience in our daily life.  On my reflective journey, I came across this excellent blog of different techniques to incorporate Pratyahara on a daily basis.  The reality in our world today is that most of us will not be able to experience an entire day in Pratyahara.   There’s work, family, food and all other items that will provide regular sensory stimulus.

Personally, I’m going to try to incorporate full pratyahara twice a day, either during my yoga practice (ideally) or during sunrise/sunset.    I’m looking forward to taking on this extra challenge this week and sharing my journey with you.

0 thoughts on “Pratyahara: Withdrawal from the Senses”

  1. I really appreciate your thoughts and techniques on Pratyahara. I have noted them down in my notebook and will reflect upon them and put them in practice. Thank you v much!

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