“In that power of self-control lies the seed of eternal freedom.”
Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, which is wonderful because yoga offers so many benefits to anyone willing to try it out. Yoga has a rich and nuanced history; it is much more than a system of poses to stretch and strengthen the body, although that is one of its greatest benefits.
This fifth installment of our exploration of the eightfold path of yoga as outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras (written sometime between the second and fourth centuries) takes a look at sense withdrawal, pratyahara.
Ahara=anything we ingest or take in
We have a term in yoga known as “monkey mind.” This is the tendency that we all have to constantly bounce our focus around from stimulus to stimulus and thought to thought. This is sensory overload. We try to process and take in everything and it ends up being overwhelming and exhausting!
The first step in practicing pratyahara is to tune your senses to your own personal internal environment. Feeling your own body in this moment and your own thoughts in this moment. We are here allowing our soul or true self to emerge, Atman.
Only from a place of intimately knowing one’s self can we truly know others and the world around us. Sense withdrawal ultimately leads to a more powerful ability to use our senses with direction and purpose that comes from a deep knowing of who we truly are.
People, thoughts, food, actions, things, etc. The process is to let go of what doesn’t serve us and replace it with what does. Moving away from what distracts us to a place of peace and serenity. A healthy mind resists distractions.
Once we have reached the deepest knowing of ourselves through sense withdrawal and coming to our core, our essence, we are then able to more easily focus when immersed in the world. A quiet mind is able to focus and stave off distraction.
The second step, or practicing this in the sense world, would be to spend time in focused sensory experiences wherein you truly focus all your senses on a single object or action. Watch a flickering candle, study a blade of grass, pet an animal with your full attention, and so on. Use all your senses and thoughts to remain present to each and every moment.
Find a comfortable position to remain for 5-10 min with your eyes closed. Listen for the furthest sound you can here, bring that sense of sound to the room you are in, now bring that sense of sound to your own breathing. If thoughts arise, label it as thought and continue your practice. No attachment. No distraction. Sense your body at the skin level and recognize any tingling or other sensations, then move that sense to just the feeling of the breath rising and falling and the cool air coming in the nostrils and warm air going out. Bring your attention to your mind allowing thoughts to pass through, remaining present, relaxed and observing. Becoming so immersed in the present you eventually begin to sense the observer within, this is your Atman. You have reached your soul or inner knowing. Stay here as long as you want, knowing you can always return to this place of deep peace and serenity.