Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Pratyahara Mean?

Pratyahara is a Sanskrit term, generally translated as "withdrawal of the senses." It is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga, believed to be a vital preliminary step before the more advanced practices of dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation).

The term is derived from two Sanskrit roots; prati meaning "against" or "withdraw", and ahara meaning "food" or referring to anything we take in from the outside. As such, pratyahara can be understood as gaining control over or withdrawing from any external influences.

The practice of pratyahara is considered to be an important bridge between the external focus of the previous limbs of yoga, such as asana (postures) and pranayama (breathwork), and the internal focus of the subsequent limbs.

Withdrawal of the senses allows the practitioner to connect with their inner world, thereby creating optimal conditions for self-realization. Pratyahara also helps to provide an understanding of how much the mind is influenced by sensory input, and to acknowledge the role of thoughts and feelings in suffering.


Yogapedia Explains Pratyahara

One of the most prominent ancient texts on yoga is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a series of 196 aphorisms written in Sanskrit around 400 AD. Patanjali describes yoga as an eightfold path, consisting of eight mind-body disciplines to be mastered. Working through these eight limbs is believed to bring the practitioner to an enlightened state of consciousness known as samadhi, in which it is possible to experience the true Self.

According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the eight limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yamas – Five social observances: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness) asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-possessiveness.)

  2. Niyamas – Five moral observances: saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), ishvarapranidhana (devotion or surrender.)

  3. Asana – Yoga postures.

  4. Pranayama – Breathing techniques as a means of controlling prana (vital life force energy.)

  5. Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses.

  6. Dharana – Concentration.

  7. Dhyana – Meditation.

  8. Samadhi – Enlightenment or bliss.

These eight limbs offer a systematic approach to calming the mind and finding liberation from suffering. Since each limb builds on the one before it, pratyahara is considered to be an important preliminary step to meditation. By drawing the attention inward, pratyahara reduces disturbances in the mind known as vritti, enabling the peace of mind required for concentration and truly meditative states.

According to yoga philosophy, there are three levels of ahara; physical food, impressions from the five senses and associations with others. Traditionally, the practice of pratyahara is centered around withdrawal from any ahara which is not nourishing for the body, mind or spirit. In modern terms however, pratyahara may also be used to describe practices such as Yoga Nidra or Restorative Yoga in which the attention is specifically drawn away from external stimuli.

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