10 Things to Know About Pratyahara: The Pivotal Moment in Yoga's Path

One way to test how difficult pratyahara is, says B.K.S. Iyengar, is to go for a walk and at the same time try not to comment or judge or even name what you see hear or smell:  "Even on a country walk, though you might be able to stop yourself from saying: beautiful, it will be almost impossible not to let yourself name the objects -teak tree, cherry tree, violet hibiscus, thorn bush, etc."

Pratyahara is the 5th limb of yoga and it is concerned with taking us from the outside to the inside, with withdrawing the senses, so that the yogi, like an inner-naut, can travel within and find the Self.

Maybe more upsetting to me was to hear his description of how we are not really receptive at all, and how we are unable to greet, say, a sunset, to let it in.

Rather our senses look out with inquisitive fire, naming, owning what they see "as if life was a nonstop shopping spree". Ouch, that hurt. Probably because it is so true.

What you will see below are descriptions, definitions, purposes I found on pratyahara in no particular order.  They are all from Iyengar unless otherwise noted. I spared the quotation marks as they are all or partly quotes. I guess I am doing this post mostly for myself as I am exploring this right now. I would say my favorite is #7:

1.- The yogic purpose of pratyahara is to make the mind shut up so we can concentrate.

2.- Pratyahara is built brick by brick through yama niyama, asana and pranayama, then utilized in dharana dhyana and samadhi.  It is the fifth petal of yoga, also called the "hinge" of the outer and inner quest.  It is the pivotal movement on yoga's path.

3.- Iyengar says that in Sanskrit, pratyahara literally means "to draw toward the opposite".  The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain, a difficult reaction.

4.- Pratyahara is mano-vrtti nirodha, it directly works from the mind like a pneumatic tool to cut its outgoing habits by changing its direction to penetrate inwards towards the core.

5.- One night at Eddie's shala he reminded us how Guruji says in Yoga Mala that yoga is a path we step into and that will lead us towards unveiling the Self.  I remember being disoriented as I could not grasp what "Self" meant. Pratyahara, says Iyengar, helps the mind to acquire knowledge of the Self.

Withdrawing the senses helps us come into the present moment without any filters, that is what Jois meant, how to come to a blank state where there is no projection, where we simply are.

6.- When at the stage of prathyahara the aspirant requires stable and intense self-study ... [because]... the ego takes pride even in this controlled mind.  At that point the mind has to direct the energy towards concentration (the next step), or fall for the ego's uprising. There lies the difficulty in pratyahara.

7.- Pratyahara is a tableland for maintaining, sustaining and retaining what is gained through the previous limbs.

8.- Pratyahara is a culture on the mind.  As I see it is a "new wiring", a creation of a new habit of sorts where we change directions as the attention constantly goes out and we rein it inside.

9.- Pratyahara undoubtedly is very difficult, as it has to be firmly established on asana and pranayama which discipline the organs of action, perception, and mind.

10.- Swami Vivekananda (who introduced yoga and Vedanta to Europe and America) calls Pratyahara a "gathering towards", as in freeing it from the thralldom of the senses. Says that when we can do this well we shall really possess character and have made a long step towards freedom; before then, we are "machines".



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9 comments:

  1. Ooo great post, on my lunchbreak at the moment so will come back to reread this later. you've convinced me to order that iyngar book. There's a pratyahara meditation i came across oncve, will try to find it for you tonight

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  2. Hi G, thanks. Hope you enjoyed your lunch. I wonder if it was one you had with a video where you were covering your eyes mouth and ears with a mudra gesture... in any event, would like to read about it...

    I find that exploring helps in the meditation practice, not all the time, not 100% but it is a start

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  3. This is a fantastic post Claudia, thanks for sharing these quotes to illustrate what pratyahara is all about. Doesn't sound very easy though! ;)

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  4. Thanks Svsnddict, and I would agree with that

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  5. Hi Claudia, I think this was it, it's from an article by Charles MacInerney,

    '...This leaves us with the question of how to withdraw from the senses. The key to this problem lies in taking a positive approach to the senses rather than a negative approach. If you are trying not to hear a noise, you are in effect, fixating on it. The harder you try not to hear it, the louder it becomes. What ever you pay attention to becomes brighter, louder, more intense. The solution is to pay attention to the most subtle sound/sight./sensation.
    I recommend you begin the practice of sense withdrawal by focusing on sounds. With eyes closed, covered, or lights turned out, listen to all the sounds in your environment. Of all the sounds you can hear, choose to focus on the most subtle. As you improve your ability to focus your mind, the most subtle sound will become louder, and louder. Then ask yourself, is there a more subtler sound beneath the one you are focussing on. Shift your attention to this new sound until it becomes louder.
    This is the most important aspect of this practice... do not attempt to "not hear" the louder sounds. Let them come and go. They are of no consequence. Stay focused on the most subtle. As you step back further and further along this chain of sounds you eventually hear your own breathing, beneath that perhaps your heart, beneath that... eventually you are hearing imaginal sounds, sounds of consciousness. Of all of these imaginal sounds, which is the most subtle? Focus on that. Eventually they say that you hear the sound of creation. The echo left over from the big bang, and when asked what does that sound like the sages would reply AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.... AAAUUUMMM.'

    here's the link to the full article
    Httpp://yogateacher.com/text/yoga/essays/pratyahara.html

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  6. ha! that is a very good suggestion
    The solution is to pay attention to the most subtle sound/sight./sensation.
    Love it

    will try it next meditation before I start, thank you!

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  7. Grimmly, that is an interesting meditation. Reminds me also of AG Mohan's description of Krishnamacharya and how when he walked around outside he always kept his eyes down so as to not look at the things around him.

    I wonder what "modern" methods there are of sense withdrawal (i.e. Pratyahara 0.1 - turn off email, dont get a facebook account, etc. )

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  8. @ James. pratyahara 0.1...... may well be time for that.

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  9. @Grimmly,

    First of all congratulations to you all for the practice of this science of Yoga therapy.

    Yes it is one way as you suggest. There can be hundreds of ways to skin a cat, so long as you have skinned it well, is what matters. I heard it in Cambridge in a course on surgery.

    Grimmly, the idea of sitting in concentration of mind is truly difficult. Mind is the most difficult stuff to rein in. That is why Patanjali
    went out of the way in stressing the importance of all the earlier four limbs on Ashtanga Yoga.

    One who is daily engaged in lies, violence, greed
    will never be able to control his/her mind. Thus comes the value of Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas and Pranayama before even coming to Pratyahara.

    Again Patanjali doesn't jump on Concentration (Dharana) from Pranayama. He knew very well that until the mind is introverted or withdrawn to train to look within, it will find itself difficult to concentrate.

    Now coming to your point on meditation. Please let me first start with the begining line of Patanjali: "Ath yoganusaasanam". Thus Yoga is anusaasanam = control; means the control of mind. Thenafter He goes on.

    Now on meditation,I presume you have sat on your final pose on a requisite seat or mat or aasan. Sit with eyes closed and gradually try to start the concentration. Don't order the rebellious mind. Let it wander but keep yourself one pointed on the object of your choice stedfastly.

    But focus yourself on a particular object of your choice as you suggest a sound. But better it is to focus on a very dim small light. It will help as thee ultimate knowledge of Self is light, that is stronger than million Suns.

    Let the mind wander around but be conscious to bring back to your imagined focus and start concentrating on the choice object. It will again run away. Don't worry but be focused. It may appear difficult but if you have observed even a fraction of Yama and Niyama and then Asanas and Pranayama, it is amazing that how the mind soon learns to focus.

    It is like a rowdy boy, the more one ignores, the sooner s/he becomes quieter. The same rule of ignorance is taught in Pratyahara to ignore outside influences and to learn to "withdraw" within so that you can start to hear the voices of your own 'Inner Self'.

    It is through the voice of Silence that the God or (Inner Self) speaks to us. Thus the value of Pratyahara and its all preceding four stages of practice. The more focused one becomes, sooner will be the results accrued.

    With my best wishes to you all here and in particular to Claudia. God bless

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