Pratyahara: The Fifth Limb Of Yoga On and Off Our Mats
While we often think the postures in yoga is the whole picture, Patanjali says that all eight yogic limbs need to be practised for the true purpose of yoga - the asanas are just one part of the whole system. Pratyahara is one of the 8 limbs spoken by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras and translated from Sanskrit means, sense withdrawal. On the mat, while we go through our postures, we can practise Pratyahara by bringing our focus to our breath and by stilling our gaze point- our dristi - so that our mind can be centred and rather than being distracted by what is going on around us, we can bring the experience internally, to how we feel.
Our mind is source of keeping us trapped and the cause of suffering due to our attachment to outcomes as well as objects of desires and by either replaying the past or “foreseeing” into the future, rather than being present.
By working with the 8 Limbs, we learn to “control” our mind, so we can be liberated and part of this is in us letting go of the attachment to objects and developing the ability to turn inwards to tune into a more subtle experience – to what is real and unchanging.
When we only live through our senses – which are obviously pivotal to survive so are there for a purpose yet are not THE PURPOSE, our processes are only about experience rather than realisation. But when we practise Pratyahara, we can BE because we are no longer scattered and instead are centred.
We are no longer “out there” but RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW.
You may find a new sense of inner peace and clarity that otherwise will evade you if you solely focus on your muscles, because as you will discover if you practise for long enough, our bodies will change and what we can and can not do will shift – but what remains for us to always tap into is something must more potent. When we can recognise this and through the practise Pratyahara, we are no longer a slave to our senses and desires.
For me, I practise yoga on the mat, BECAUSE off the effects off the mat. Taking Pratyahara into day to day life, when I am making decisions I make an effort to have my internal compass working and listening to how the choices make me feel. It becomes very hard when I am focused "out there" or when I am having an over load of my senses, to truely feel what is right for me. It can be as practical as being mindful of how much screen time I have - because the overload of social media is like a smorgasbord for our senses... or it can be as simple as taking little snippets throughout my day to check in. Those moments in between, instead of checking the emails, calling someone, doing one of the million things I need to do - I stop. I breathe. I close my eyes. I get still. Yes mediation is great and I recommend it, but thats not what I am talking about here. It is just pauses in the hustle that recenter me, that ground me and recharge me...
Think about being in a room with the TV on, people around you talking, someone vacuuming and construction going on next door. Try making a decision. When you turn off the TV, the people leave, the cleaning stops and the builders go home and you are suddenly really notice how noisy it was and you appreciate the space and peace in the quiet and stillness. Suddenly you become more aware of the colours in the window, the smells around you, or perhaps even what you FEEL LIKE.
Making a decision in the quiet room is like practising your yoga - and pockets of your life - with Pratyahara.