Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawal) in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
1Eight Limbs of Yoga(Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)Pratyahara(Sense Withdrawal)Subhash MittalIntegral Yoga Studiowww.integralyogastudio.com 919-926-9717 email@example.com
2Invocation to Sage Patanjaliयोगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वािाां | मऱां शरीरस्य ि वैद्यके न ||योऽपाकरोत्तां प्रवरां मुनीनाां | पतञ्जलऱां प्राञ्जलऱरानतोऽस्स्म ||yogena chittasya padena vAchAM | malaM sharIrasya chavaidyakena ||yo.apAkarottaM pravaraM munInAM | pata~njaliMprA~njalirAnato.asmi ||"I respectfully bow down with folded hands and offer mysalutations to Sage Patanjali, the highest among the Munis(sages), who has presented the remedies for removing theimpurities of the body through his treatise on Ayurveda, oflanguage through his treatise on grammar (PatanjalaMahabhashya) and the impurities of the Chitta (mind field)through his treatise on Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)."
Outline• Gentle stretching• Pranayama practice• What is Pratyahara?• Outside-in approach• Inside-out approach• Sensory overstimulation• How to achieve Pratyahara• Candle gazing (Trataka)• Pratyahara in Bhagavad Gita• Yoga Nidra (relaxation)• Pratyahara meditation
What is Pratyahara?• Pratyahara is fifth of the eight limbs – yama,niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara,dharana, dhyana, samadhi• One of the most important and yet, the leastdiscussed, taught or practiced limbs of yoga!• Most often referred to as an “external limb”along with yamas, niyamas, asana andpranayama• Yamas and Niyamas (truth, non-violence,purity etc.) help purify the mind
What is Pratyahara (cont.)• Asanas strengthen the body and make it freeof disease• Pranayama energizes the vital body, calms themind and aids in controlling the senses• To achieve stability, mind needs to be cut offfrom the five senses• Mind is then ready for meditation andsamadhi
What is Pratyahara? (cont.)• When separated from their correspondingobjects, the organs follow, as it were, the natureof the mind -Sutra 2.54• That brings supreme control of the sense organs -Sutra 2.55• Pratyahara = "prati" (against/away) + "ahara"(food/inputs) = withdrawing away from thesense inputs.• Three levels of food:– Physical food giving energy thru five elements– Sense impressions thru the five senses– Mental impressions through associations
Pratyahara: outside-in Approach• Senses are withdrawn away from their respectiveobjects• They remain in their own natural state• Once the senses are not in contact with theirobjects, the mind also has no contact with them.It then stays in its own natural state• The senses then seem to resemble the state ofthe mind.• Such a control of the senses and of the mind iscalled Pratyahara.
Pratyahara: inside-out Approach• When stilled through vairagya (detachment)and other practices, mind is no longerinterested in the five senses• Senses continue to receive input thru thesense organs (eyes, ears etc)• Mind is unwilling to retrieve these inputs• The senses, unable to distract the mind,appear as if they are following the mind
Sensory Overload• Senses constantly bombarded with attractionsthru the media – TV, newspaper, internet etc• It becomes hard to control mind and senses• Senses begin to control the mind, ourthoughts and behavior patterns• Mind can benefit from a “sensory fast” similarto the body benefitting from a “food fast”
Pratyahara Techniques• Pranayama – senses follow prana (vital life force) so we energizeprana thru pranayama– Deep, slow breathing techniques calm the nerves, mind– Duirng Kumbhaka, the yogi withdraws his awareness from the fivesenses• Karma Pratyahara (control of actions) – selfless service, offering allactions and fruits thereof to Lord• Focus on one sense impression – blue sky, ocean, tree etc (likemono-diet can heal the body)• Creating positive impressions – meditate on nature, visitingtemples, offering incense, flowers etc• Visualization techniques• In the practice of Yoga Nidra, we are able to turn the senses inward
Pratyahara Techniques (cont.)• Practice Yoni Mudra – symbolically shutting offthe senses and breathing out with hummingsound – after pranayama• Trataka (gazing) – normally practiced with alighted candle• Pratyahara meditation – connecting with andwithdrawing from senses one at a time
Pratyahara in Bhagavad Gita• the five senses are compared to the five horses ofa chariot:– The mind is the reins– the soul (the atman) is the passenger– In order to keep the chariot (the human being) oncourse, it is important to keep the horses in control.• Just like a turtle which withdraws its limbs away,the yogi, by turning senses away from theirobjects, attains steady wisdom
Pratyahara in Bhagavad Gita (cont.)• When one thinks of objects, attachment isborn which leads to the following “ladder ofdestruction”:– attachment →desires → anger → delusion → lossof memory → loss of intellect and discriminatorypower → total annihilation.• One who is self-controlled, even thoughmoving among the objects, attains peacesince the senses remain under control andfree from attraction
Pratyahara – Grades of Control• Not being addicted to the five senses.• Reaching out and gaining experience of external objects which arenot prohibited by the scriptures• Experiencing the objects only as a result of free will, not drawn inby the objects• This experience of an object can lead to full knowledge of theobject without causing pleasure or pain as we have no likes ordislikes for external objects. Pleasure and pain are the results ofego-identification.• Completely eliminating any contact with the objects is finalcontrollability (talked about in this sutra) and comes about whenthe mind is fully one-pointed• Any stage other than the last stage can take us back to a state of nocontrol over senses. Even a snake expert would not sleep next to avenomous snake thinking that he knows how to control snakes.
Closing Remarks• Pratyahara is a critically important limb on thepath to meditation and samadhi• Techniques like pranayama, yoga nidra and‘pratyahara meditation’ help attain the stateof pratyahara (sense withdrawal)• It is easier to control the mind when it is notdistracted by the senses and their objects
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