The Yoga Tutor

Pratyahara - Withdrawing From The Senses

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 478 ]

We now embark into the transition from the bahiranga, or external aspects of yoga, to the antaranga, or the internal yoga.

All of the techniques, directives, exercises and trainings thus far have been systematically and cumulatively designed to condition the body, the emotions and the mind for yoga, which really begins at the 5th stage of Sage Patanjali's ashtanga yoga system -- pratyahara.

Most commonly, pratyahara is classified as one of the bahirangas, as it is in effect an external practice. On the other hand, it serves a primary function of bridging the external and internal aspects of ashtanga yoga.

Pratyahara is referred to as 'sensory withdrawal', yet rarely is much more said of the matter and quite often students and teachers alike seem to have a great deal of uncertainty as to the nature of this practice. Sage Patanjali uncovers pratyahara in two of his sutras, yet these remain somewhat vague and non-revealing as well. The first, “Sadhana Pada,” sutra 54 states:

Translation - When the senses withdraw themselves from their objects and imitate the mind (chitta), then this is known as pratyahara.

It is the nature of the (lower) mind to take the form of that which it contacts. The senses are conduits to the external world. They allow the world around us to come into our minds, which in this day and age can be a dangerous affair.

Hatred is on the rise around the world, fuelled by an increase in violent and angry images in the news, media and pop-culture. Mistrust, dishonesty, greed and disrespect, and a whole host of degenerate attitudes, have become common characteristics of humanity, reinforced by the many external messages that we constantly receive via the senses.

A child learns how to think, how to feel, and what attitudes to take about the world from the messages it receives via the senses -- and it is troubling to see just what kind of messages these innocent young ones are constantly being bombarded with. Putting two and two together, one should not be surprised at the increasing degradation of moral and ethical values, along with rising psychological and emotional instability in successive generations of the modern age.

Our senses turned loose in the modern world are like a child turned loose in a candy shop. We literally 'lose our minds', consume a heap of junk, and then feel sick and lousy afterwards!

All of this unsettledness of mankind is a direct result of our inability to control the senses and to turn them inward toward Higher Consciousness. The senses are like a mirror -- turned outward they reflect the outside -- turned inward they reflect pure light.

When the senses are withdrawn from the sense objects, as in pratyahara, then, as this sutra of Patanjali’s suggests, they reflect or imitate the mind -- meaning that they will see, and thus reflect, the purity and peace of the Higher Mind.


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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