3 Ways to Practice Pratyahara in a Particularly Sense Driven World
Ping. I look at my cell phone. Oh look, it's another notification. As I unlock my phone, I realize there are actually several notifications from various apps.
After fumbling through my phone and clearing notifications, I go back to my laptop to browse. I have music playing from my computer. In the background, I hear the TV my cousins have on.
My senses are lit up.
The world is an amazing, exciting place. I love the technology surrounding me.
But sometimes I feel like everywhere I go, there is something being put in front of my face. Something I just have to react to. There is an over-saturation of noise and sights to take in. (And yes, some of that comes from living in a place with noise pollution, having a smart phone, and being on social media.)
With so much noise and distraction, sometimes it's hard to really hear myself. Sometimes it's hard to be aware of myself.
That's why the fifth limb of yoga -- sense withdrawal, or pratyahara is so important.
yOGA SUTRA 2.54 PRATYAHARA IS THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE SENSES FROM THEIR OBJECTS BY FOLLOWING THE ESSENTIAL NATURE OF THE MIND.
YOGA SUTRA 2.55 FROM THIS COMES THE PERFECT MASTERY OVER THE SENSES.
(As translated by Ravi Ravindra)
The fifth limb of yoga asks us to look within. It actually precedes concentration and meditation. In oversimplified terms, pratyahara is when you choose to turn off the TV and put your phone on silent before deciding to meditate. It's choosing to turn your attention inward and turn down the external distractions.
Here's what Ravi Ravindra says in The Wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: "We need to practice an inward attention by turning from looking outward to an inward perception. The inward extension of the senses is analogous to outward seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling, but inward perception has different possibilities. There is a vast inner world and as we become more and more sensitive inward, we can begin to be aware of deeper and deeper aspects of ourselves."
What are some ways to turn inward?
1. Sensory Deprivation Floating
“The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea.” --Isak Dinesen
How does it work? You enter a float cabin that is lightproof and soundproof. The water is concentrated with a lot of Epsom salt and allows for you to float and relax. It's a very concrete way to come into pratyahara... Physically you are alone and away from all the other distractions.
Floating comes with benefits such as pain relief, improved sleep, and reduction in depression/anxiety. My friend Sarah is the owner of a float center in Tacoma, WA. Here's more information about the benefits of floating from their website.
But perhaps you aren't ready to float.
2. Restorative Yoga
“Taking time out each day to relax and renew is essential to living well.” --Judith Hanson Lasater
In the way that Epsom salt water allows for you to float and let go, I like to think that props used in restorative yoga allows for you to do the same.
Restorative yoga is a practice that consists of props, sustained stillness, and an emphasis on comfort. By propping your body up, you are able to relax with support. If done in a very quiet environment, it can feel very restful. The silence and supportive style will invoke pratyhara relatively easy.
See my blog post on restorative yoga for more. If you find you want to practice pratyahara in your every day life without props, keep reading.
3. Practice Non-judgment and Delayed Reaction
"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." --Claudia Azula
It's very very easy to judge and instantly react to all the over-stimulation around us.
Although non-judgment and delayed reaction may be the simplest ways to turn inward, it's not the easiest.
Sure, I'll call a float center and make an appointment. And I'll lie on my bolster for some restorative yoga. But asking myself to NOT judge, to NOT react to all the noise and distractions as I go about my day is difficult.
One method you can try is a walking meditation practice. You can challenge yourself to focus on walking and try to not make distinctions about anything you see or hear.
Imagine that you can just look at what's ahead of you, WITHOUT judgment.
Otherwise, you can try pausing after you hear that ping. Let the phone ring a couple times before picking up. Maybe read that click bait title without clicking on it.
Ask yourself, how can I practice non-judgment and delayed reaction in order to turn inward for a moment?
All of those are some ways to go against the grain of moving the senses outward.
I personally like to do restorative yoga, but since I've thought about pratyahara more, I think I will try to practice non-judgment and delayed reaction.