The eight limbs of yoga include an essential practice known as pratyahara. Pratyahara, which happens to be the fifth limb of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga, is typically defined as "withdrawal of the senses."
We focus our awareness away from the most commonly used five senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound), which helps bring us more in touch with our intuition--our sixth sense.
For me, the practice of pratyahara makes my yoga experience richer, deeper, fuller, and more of a direct journey to my soul.
Pratyahara is considered the most important limb in yoga sadhana as it helps bridge the gap between the previous limbs, which build internal focus, and the subsequent limbs, which help the yogi reach union with the Divine.
So, What Is Pratyahara?
The word pratyahara is made up of two words, prati and ahara. In Sanskrit, prati, roughly translated, means 'away' or 'against'. Ahara can be translated as 'food' or 'nourishment'. Thus, in practicing pratyahara, we pull away from the “food” of existence.
Pratyhara is the practice of turning your attention inwards.
This limb of yoga, pratyahara, naturally promotes well being and relaxation. When we skillfully practice pratyahara during our yoga practice, we have a deeper experience in the postures.
The drawing inward of the senses takes our attention away from the external world, and brings it inward—to our bodies.
The more we practice pratyahara, the further we get to explore the inner workings of our own consciousness during our yoga practice.
How to Practice Patyahara
Like every yoga technique, pratyahara is available to all---children, seniors, and beginning and advanced practitioners alike. Simple to perform, and an absolute essential part of the journey to knowing your true self, the power of pratyahara cannot be denied.
We do it all the time.
For those of us who find it difficult to ease our restless minds and journey inward, yoga props can help. Blankets, eye pillows, and even sandbags, which weigh us down, further grounding us into the earth, can help us relax and drop into a state of enhanced relaxation which supports the state of inward focused sensation.
Comfort helps us begin practicing pratyahara.
Being comfortable, cozy, and stress-free helps us ease into pratyahara, which is why we practice a well-rounded yoga sequence before savasana or seated meditation.
However, you can draw your senses inward anytime—not just at the end of a yoga class.
To get really familiar with the sensations of pratyahara, you may want to practice where you feel safe, perhaps in the comfort of your own home or in your favorite city park.
You might want to practice pratyahara in the bathtub, where you are warm and deeply relaxed. You could practice it in bed at night, before dozing off to sleep.
It’s an important part of the yoga practice which truly enhances your inner and outer health on every level---mind, body, and spirit.
One practical way to practice pratyahara is simply by closing the eyes. Our sight is one of our most powerful senses. By simply closing our eyes, we’re naturally doing pratyahara.
In savasana, close your eyes and tune out the rest of the world for a while. This is pratyahara.
By tuning out the rest of the world, we have precious time to simply be ourselves, our true nature. The more we rest in this place, we also get to tap into our core values and beliefs.
Thus, practicing this drawing inward of the senses is necessary for the yogic practice of self-study, known as svadhyaya in Sanskrit. We then learn about ourselves on an intimate level, and even access higher levels of awareness and expanded consciousness.
Quieting Sound from Our Environment
We can also deliberately practice pratyahara by taking time out from the distractions of modern life. We’re stimulated by sounds all the time.
There are the dings of text messages, the constant traffic all around us, the hum of lawnmowers, buses buzzing through town---we live in a loud world.
This overstimulation takes a toll on our nervous systems. And the more we do yoga, and practice pratyahara, the more sensitive our senses become.
Why We Practice Pratyahara
We Befriend Our Mind
Every time we go inward via pratyahara, we become friendlier with our mind. Befriending our own minds is a powerful way to truly see our unique mental grooves and habits.
With awareness of our thoughts and habits, we can then create change in our lives should we choose.
We can understand our emotions, behaviors, and make tweaks here and there where necessary.
The self-awareness we gain through pratyahara, and this befriending of our minds, is key for spiritual growth and transformation.
Pratyahara Promotes Inner Peace
The tranquility and peace you feel with this regular journey towards yourself is one that will gradually seep into all of your life.
You’ll react less and be able to go with the flow with much greater calm and ease.
Your thoughts will become clearer, and you’ll feel more confident in who you truly are. The power of pratyahara simply cannot be denied!