Pratyahara: sever the senses, embrace the world
by Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on June 17, 2014. Posted with permission.
Imagine you’re driving a carriage. The horses are crazed, and you can’t control them. What happens?
Now, know that the horses are your senses, and the carriage is your mind. In order to control your mind, you must control your senses.
Untrained, out-of-control senses are adept at flinging the mind off track. They are hunters, always on the prowl. They might be seeking security, love, money, the job, an improved self, entertainment and distraction or positive thoughts.
When they spot prey, your mind must covet. And how do you begin to covet, Clarice? You covet what your senses perceive every day.
And you become externally oriented.
Welcome to the Adversarial Relationship Paradigm.
It’s You vs. Everything Else. Everything Else is separate from you and waiting to be acquired, conquered, defeated or adored. Your mind is pulled outside yourself, severed from the essence of your life’s purpose.
You’re too busy wrestling prey to the ground.
Given that yoga means union, this paradigm of separateness is yoga’s antithesis.
Why do we do yoga?
It has nothing to do with fitness, although fitness can be a by-product. Every yoga practice begins with setting an intention. What knowledge do you need to recognize?
An hour’s practice primes your body’s energy centers with prana (life force); then, you’re ready for final meditation. This is what you’ve been working toward. You’re open and ready for the universal download.
It’s during this moment that some are fortunate to experience Samadhi. Samadhi is union with the divine. It’s transcendence from the physical. You are one with all that is.
You are no longer an isolated being walking on the surface of the planet. You and the universe are not just connected but one. Since the universe is abundant, there is no loneliness, want or need.
The Adversarial Relationship Paradigm, You vs. Everything Else, does not fit into this equation.
Samadhi is possible, but, because your senses lead your mind to covet, you can’t reach it.
You must tame your senses. Now.
Pratyahara: sense withdrawal
Yoga has eight limbs. The first four are basic: Yamas and Niyamas (codes of conduct), Pranayama (breath control) and Asana (the physical postures). These are addressed in most general yoga classes.
The upper four limbs move into mind.
If you want to take your yoga to a different level, if you want to experience Samadhi, Pratyahara is next.
When you sever the senses’ connection to the mind, the mind is no longer pulled outward and is free to move inward. Precision: The goal is not to clear or empty the mind but to focus the mind. Once the mind is focused, then unification with the divine, all there is, is possible.
How can you tame your senses? Paradoxically, you travel deeper into them.
Choices for beginning Pratyahara
Sit in Sukhasana, cross legged and on the ground. Close your eyes. Count each inhalation and exhalation. Every day, see how high you can count before being interrupted by a thought. You have thoughts approximately every 1.2 seconds, so be patient with yourself.
Isolate sound. Sit anywhere: home, a corner at work, outside. With your eyes closed, note the individual sounds. The air conditioning. Voices outside the door. Your computer’s hum. Birds. Choose one sound, and focus on it. Amplify it until it drowns all others.
Fast one day per week. Drink only hot water with lemon. Sip it, and be grateful.
Enter periods of voluntary celibacy. If you can only make it a single day, so be it.
Invest in blindfolds and earplugs. Sit outside, and feel your seat on the earth and the wind on your skin. Instead of defining the sensation, just feel it.
Turn off all communication devices and social media for one day. Or an hour.
Every hour, on the hour, close your eyes for one minute.
For one day, don’t buy anything.
A favorite: Do not speak today. If a day is impossible, set aside one hour of silence.
Get an eye pillow. Lie down on the floor, set your phone’s Insight Timer, cover your eyes and breathe for ten minutes.
Allow silence to be your life’s soundtrack. Turn off the house television. Drive without the radio.
What will Pratyahara accomplish?
As the stimulation of your senses drifts into nothingness, your mind will enter a focused state of concentration. You will have moved into Dharana, the sixth limb of yoga. As you practice, you will naturally and eventually drift into a state of meditation, Dhyana.
This process might be frustrating because although you’ve made strides disengaging from the mad stimulation of your senses, they will interrupt you from time to time. Acknowledge the thoughts gently, without suppressing them, and then let them go.
With time, Samadhi, a feeling of bliss and unification with all that is, will begin to manifest in your practice.
Disengaged from your senses’ demands, you will be able to live a life of equanimity and serenity despite what the out-of-control stallions throw you. Enemies. Opposition. Prey. Targets. You will depart the Adversarial Relationship Paradigm.
And, from a different place, you can get down to business.