Pratyahara practice is the fifth limb in the eight limbs of yoga, and it is often the most overlooked. or the forgotten limb of yoga. But pratyahara is actually part of all the limbs of yoga and is foundational in moving onto the deeper practices of yoga.
Pratyahara is the practice of controlling and withdrawing the senses. In modern times, we are often on sensory overload, constantly being bombarded by sounds, colors, smells, advertisements, and more. The media has created a norm of life in which people no longer know how to separate themselves from this overload.
But to improve your health and move further down the path of yoga, it is necessary to practice this vital skill. So, see below to learn how you can begin practicing pratyahara on your own!
What is Pratyahara?
Pratyahara translates in Sanskrit to mean “withdrawal of the senses.” Essentially, pratyahara is the practice of closing off to wrong food, wrong impressions, and wrong associations while simultaneously opening up to the right food, right impressions, and right associations. The impressions that we take in through our senses can have a drastic effect on our mental and physical health. These impressions and associations are like food for the mind. When you feed your mind junk impressions through your senses, this will lead to disturbances in the body and mind.
The Benefits of Pratyahara Practice
Pratyahara provides the tools to gain control over both the mind and the body by withdrawing the senses from the material world. Pratyahara can be used to treat all forms of mental disorders and nervous system disorders, particularly those with components of hyperactivity. Additionally, physical diseases tend to arise from the consumption of unwholesome and unhealthy foods. Through pratyahara practice, you can gain control over your senses to break cravings for the wrong foods and take better care of your physical health. On an energetic level, pratyahara practice also helps turn prana into a positive inner force for moving forward down the path towards enlightenment.
How to Practice Pratyahara
There are four primary forms of pratyahara:
1. Control of the senses (Indriya-pratyahara)
2. Control of Prana (Prana-pratyahara)
3. Control of Action (Karma-pratyahara)
4. Withdrawal of the Mind from the Senses (Mano-pratyahara)
These different forms of pratyahara increase in difficulty, so if you are just starting out with pratyahara practice, it is best to start first with indriya-pratyahara or prana-pratyahara to build a firm foundation in this practice.
To begin the practice of indriya-pratyahara, simply take at least 10 minutes every day to completely cut off from any sensory inputs by meditating with your eyes closed, taking a retreat away from distractions, or do a media fast. You can also practice this form of pratyahara by focusing your attention on a source of uniform impressions through gazing at the ocean or the blue sky. This can give your mind a chance to rest from the sensory overload common in modern times.
Once you have created a firm foundation in indriya-pratyahara, then you can begin the practice of prana-pratyahara. Prana is the vital life force that can be built up through the practice of pranayama or breathing exercises. Pranayama is actually a preparatory practice for pratyahara. Prana-pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing this built-up prana from different parts of the body. It is said that Ramana Maharishi actually achieved enlightenment from this method by visualizing his body as dead, withdrawing his prana into the mind, and then shifting the mind into the heart to withdraw the prana completely into this area. This can be done through visualization exercises, but it is an advanced yogic practice and should be done with a teacher’s guidance.
Pratyahara and Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, the inappropriate use of the senses is one of the leading causes of diseases. By learning how to gain mastery over the senses through pratyahara practice, you can begin to treat various mental and physical illnesses associated with this.
Depending on your prakriti or base constitution, pratyahara practice can also have different effects. For people with a vata dominant dosha, pratyahara practice is more essential for them because they tend to become more imbalanced from excessive sensory stimulation.
In contrast, kapha dosha dominant types tend to have too little activity on the sensory level and may even slip into tamasic practices of being lazy, watching tv, or lounging around the house. People with kapha dosha actually need more mental stimulation and benefit from higher-nature sensory activity through visualizations.
Finally, for people with pitta dosha, they tend to have more control of the senses than other types and may slip into over disciplining the body and senses. So, they benefit most from practicing pratyahara to relax the personal will and tapping into the divine source to work through them.
Pratyahara is a highly beneficial practice for people of all constitutions, and it is an essential component of every person’s yoga practice. So, try using the tips above to begin practicing pratyahara in your daily life to start gaining the many benefits of this practice today!
If you are interested in learning more about pratyahara and how you can move more in-depth in your personal practice in the right way for your unique needs, feel free to contact me for a one-on-one consultation or private yoga therapy session. Having a teacher to guide you through these practices can help keep you focused and overcome any difficulties that you may face along the way. So, check out my services and classes to help get you started!
See you next time (: