Pratyāhāra (प्रत्याहार) – Withdrawal of the senses
written by Uta Eismann
Pratyāhāra is the fifth element of Patanjali's eightfold path of Yoga. It builds a bridge between the four external qualities (Yama, Niyama, Asana, Prāṇāyāma) and the internal yoga (Pratyāhāra, Dhāraṇā, Dhyana and Samādhi).
The word Pratyāhāra has its origin in two Sanskrit words: prati and ahra. Prati can be translated as opposite or “to move away from” and ahara meaning food or anything we are consuming. If you put these two words together, Pratyāhāra can be translated as moving away from the overstrung senses of our day-to-day world.
When we look at the eight limbs yogic way, asana and pranayama are the steps before entering Pratyāhāra. Invite yourself in your asana practice to feel each posture in connection with your breath. Respect your current physical limits and keep observing your sensations. Especially when practicing in a group, we might get distracted with what is happening around us. We easily fall back into a judging and competitive mind.
From time-to-time try to practice with closed eyes, invite yourself to really feel from within without getting distracted from external sensations. Also sometimes practice without music - but instead listen to your breath. Feel into this connection with yourself and the group around you when practicing with other yogis and yoginis.
- practice forward folds more often this month for being closer to yourself and stretching your back side, your past side
- practice Karnapidasana, as you can draw your senses back very well in this pose whilst closing your ears with your knees
Practice Bhramarin Pranayama, as it helps you in drawing back your senses within a few minutes.
1. Get into a comfortable and upright seat of your choice.
2. Close the ears with the thumbs, place the index fingers gently over the eyes, the tips of the middle fingers on the sides of the nostrils, the ring fingers on the upper lip and the little fingers on the lower lip. This hand position/mudra is called "closing the Seven Gates" or "Shanmukti Mudra".
3. Listen to the sound of your breath for a little while.
4. Continue to breathe calmly and deeply, but hum like a bee during the exhalation. If there are pauses after inhaling or exhaling, allow it.
5. Stop practicing the exercise when you feel that your arms are getting tired. Then place your hands back on your knees or in your lap and continue to feel inside for a while with your eyes closed. Connect with the sensations that this "humming of the bees" has left in you.
Pratyāhāra off the mat
Especially in today's life, where an overflow of information crossing our mind every day, where we are supposed to perform,
where we are supposed to be available all the time,
where we are supposed to show up – Pratyāhāra is needed more than ever.
Allow yourself to do less. Particularly now, where we are in the season of autumn.
You might notice that you simply need more rest, more time to calm down and to digest the last month and all the experiences you have done so far. See nature as an example. Nature is slowly resting more and more. The trees are letting go of their leaves withhold holding on. As we are part of nature, we are always both - yin and yang. We need both qualities to establish our inner balance. Take some time to reflect on the past year as we are entering the last weeks of 2021. Be grateful for all you achieved and for all you are.
Reduce your time on the screen and the overload of information, especially in the nights to calm down your nervous system before sleeping.
Also practice saying no to things. You simply can´t please everyone all the time. Plan time for yourself and time to rest like everything else in your weekly schedule.
Further reading & sources