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Pratyahara - the Doorway to Deeper Consciousness

By Elana Love

FRI OCT 29, 2021

Often one of the most overlooked and underrated limbs of Patanjali's 8 limbed path of yoga, Pratyahara, or the 5th limb, means withdrawal of the senses. This limb is all about retreating from the outside world to turn our attention inward, drawing our energy to the path of Self-realization. Humans have the tendency to be outwardly focused, letting external motivations guide our decisions and actions, rather than being guided by our own internal wisdom. Patanjali (great Indian Yogi and sage) believed that the chaos of world can take us out of alignment with our highest good and highest Self, and that it is often the cause of much of our emotional imbalance. Additionally, he believed the influence of external events, factors, desires, and sensations to be a great distraction from Self-realization. He taught that we need to practice turning off outer sensations and becoming acutely aware of our inner world, so that we are masters of our five senses, rather than servants of them. Pratyahara is like having the control over where you point the flashlight in a dark room - everything is still around you, but you choose where to focus and illuminate.

Humans tend to have a fixation on feeling more intense sensations (think wanting a stronger workout or trying to get that adrenaline rush), but we often think there is only one way to turn up the volume on sensation. The reality is that you don't need to go so out of your way - you can turn the volume up on your experience by simply going toward and deeper into the subtle sensations you feel.

Practicing Pratyahara On the Mat:

Practicing Pratyahara on the mat, in your asana practice, is relatively simple. Instead of focusing on what the next person beside your is doing or what the teacher tells you you should feel, or getting stuck on that image in your head of the perfect Instagram yogi, see if you can continuously bring your awareness back to your objective internal experience - the sensations you feel in your body and your breath. The next time you practice, notice where your mind goes as well, especially during the moments that are challenging, uncomfortable, or even boring. Your brain will probably trail off and think about your To-Do list, or your need to get a pedicure when you look down and see your toes, and all of this is normal, but it takes you out of your current experience, of fully being with the present moment, which is one of the main benefits of practicing yoga! When you notice this happening, take the opportunity to check in rather than check out - find a physical sensation in your body, focus your attention like a lazer beam, and let yourself dive deeper into it, feeling it more and more and being totally present with it. Maybe even explore subtle movement and adjustments around that sensation. Notice what changes with the sensation and what happens in your mind. Pratyahara is a practice of listening deeper, and answering what is being asked.

How to Practice Pratyahara Off the Mat:

Ask yourself where in your life you are overstimulated and where you can simplify and cut back on the chaos and noise.

  • Turning off most notifications on my phone & setting "Do Not Disturb" mode for certain hours
  • Decluttering my home and space
  • Bringing full attention to each sip of tea or bite I chew
  • Opting for a period of silence once a day, when I might normally listen to music or podcast

Try finding some way to bring Pratyahara into your life this week, and use it as an opportunity to refine your awareness of your inner world and deepen your connection to your Self and your intuition.

Another Yogic practice embracing Pratyahara and helping you tune inward is the pranayama-meditation hybrid practice called Yoni Mudra, which consists of closing off most of the senses with your fingers, either figuratively or literally. Yoni is another word for the female genitalia, and in this practice is making a comparison to the very internal dark and quiet womb-like state that happens when you close off the outside world. Learn how to do the practice below:

Questions for Conscious Living:
How in your life are you overstimulated?
Where can you simplify and cut back on the chaos and noise?
Does your yoga practice help you check in, or check out?

Thanks for reading! If this article was helpful to you, please share it and tag me on Facebook (@elanaloveyoga) or Instagram (@awholelanalove). If you like my style, join me in weekly yoga classes or the Living Yoga Membership. And always feel free to write me with any questions or feedback. 🙏🏼