Withdrawal Of The Senses – WHAT?
Posted by terrepruitt on October 19, 2016
In January I started writing about the Eight Limbs of Yoga with a post called More To Yoga Than Just Asana. They are 1-The yamas, 2-The niyamas, 3-The asana, 4- Pranayama, 5-Pratyahara, 6-Dharana, 7-Dhyana, and 8-Samadhi. I finished posting briefly about the niyamas in April. So it has been six months since I visited any of the limbs on my blog. I thought I would pick up with the fifth limb – pratyahara and share a what I understand about it. As I have said before, all the limbs and their smaller branches (like the yamas and the niyamas) can (and do) have volumes written about them. I am only scratching the surface AND only exposing what I understand them to be at this time. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses.
That is what I have heard it described as. I never really understood or agreed with the “withdrawal of the senses”. The initial “scratch on the surface” was not enough for me to get on board with this limb. As I looked briefly into the meaning or the idea, I think I understand it a bit more. Now I can totally relate.
The books I used to help me put it in perspective and allow me to understand it in a way to actually apply it are B.K.S. Iyengar’s The Path To Holistic Health, T.K.V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga and B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light On Pranayama.
In The Path To Holistic Health B.K.S. Iyengar said, “When the senses withdraw from objects of desire, the mind is released from the power of the senses, which in turn become passive. Then the mind turns inward and is set free from the tyranny of the senses. This is pratyahara.” Ok, I feel that put me on the path to understanding. Him saying “withdraw from objects of desire,” made me think, “Ok, we are not just shutting off our senses.” I made me think that it is more of a form of concentration than a form of torture.
Then in The Heart of Yoga, I understand T.K.V. Desikachar’s to be saying that we might sense things but we ignore them, but we don’t really do it necessarily as a conscious practice, but because we are in the moment. We are attuned to what we are doing. We are focused. To me his explanation made a lot of sense because he was saying that our senses are not entirely withdrawn and shut off . . . we are just focused. As an example, in an asana practice we are going to be aware of our body and sensing where our arms are in relation to our hips, but we are not going to be thinking about how we need to apply lotion to our arms or how our hips sway when we do the latest dance move. While lotion and dance moves might not be examples of “objects of desire” they are examples of thoughts that distract us from the asana practice.
It also sounded to me like T.K.V. Desikachar was saying that we can – and more than likely have experienced Pratyahara before. It could be when we are so focused on something we don’t realize what is going on around us. Perhaps on the phone and not noticing someone is trying to get our attention. Perhaps we turn everything out when focused on a task such as cooking, knitting, sewing, writing, drawing, etc. Where the senses are withdrawn because the focus and concentration is so intense. This goes along with T.K.V. Desikachar saying that pratyahara comes naturally.
I’m thinking that not having it be a conscious practice might depend on what you are doing. I could be at first we might have to really focus on concentrating, but eventually it will just become a part of our practice. I think the more we practice the better we can achieve pratyahara. Light on Pranayama described pratyahara as quieting the mind saying that pranayama and pratyahara help with that. I know that when I focus on my breathing it helps quiet the mind and I feel more focused.
So now that I feel that pratyachara is not just withdrawal of the senses to all that is around you, I feel that I could actually be practicing and doing this limb of yoga. At this point it helps when I am in a class or following a yoga application and not just doing yoga on my own. We all know how distracted I get when I do that.
How about you? How well do you practice pratyahara when doing yoga? Can you think of a time when you have experienced pratyahara when not doing yoga?