The Eight Limbs of Yoga No.5- Pratyahara
Pratyahara is the fifth limb in the eight limb system of yoga, and loosely translates to 'withdrawal of the senses'. This can be a tad confusing to hear at first, as it's difficult to get your head around the idea of switching the senses off, if you like. I'm hoping this post will give you an understanding of Pratyahara, and how it can be used in your life and in your yoga class.
Think of our Savasana, our relaxation at the end of a yoga class. Think of how we start to feel as we release into this. I often go through Savasana in my classes with a body scan guided meditation. I instruct all my students to mindfully be aware of all of the parts of the body sinking into relaxation. This is essentially the beginning of Pratyahara. You are starting to consciously withdraw here. You are still aware of your surroundings, still awake, and yet you are in your own little safe haven. You are switching off, whilst still being switched on. The goal of Savasana isn't to fall asleep, (although it's very easy to do!) but to simply be in a state of Pratyahara, undisturbed by any sounds you might hear, or feelings you may feel.
Picture yourself sitting in a forest area. Right outside this forest area is a big, bustling city. In the faint distance, you can hear voices, cars, the typical noises of the city. Even though you can hear these noises, they are not affecting you in your peaceful forest area. You've found a hidden gem in the middle of the big city, an area of peace within the chaos. The feelings you get from this visualisation, but planted into your everyday life, are Pratyahara in action. A safe haven in your mind.
A way to bring this yoga practice into your everyday life, is with a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is a common practice for coping with mental illness, and it is the practice of being present. No visualisation, or concentration on any one specific thing, but simply being in the present, whatever that may look like, and not letting it affect you. This is a practice of Pratyahara. You can also do this in your physical asana practice. When you are in a yoga pose, working on mindfulness. Keeping the mind still, not letting any of the senses disrupt you from being present in the pose. Letting thoughts simply pass without dwelling, same with feelings, smells, and sounds.
I hope this post has given you a better understanding of Pratyahara, and helped enhance your yoga practice.
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