Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Of the 8 limbs of yoga, Pratyahara, or sense withdrawal is the 5th and it is rarely touched upon in yoga. In my own Yoga Teacher Training, I remember my teacher and now good friend Stacey Hoshimiya repeating the word Pratyahara but I wasn't sufficiently attuned to the many textures of Pratyahara.
Becoming more aware of the practice of Pratyahara can have a dramatic impact on our physical and mental states and it is a tool used regularly in Ayurveda to help balance the mind and body. Successful mastery of sense control is also essential to successful meditation practice.
Pratyahara is derived from the Sanskrit words prati and ahara. Ahara in its simplest form means food, but at a deeper level means anything we take into ourselves. Prati means 'away from'; hence the meaning noted earlier - the withdrawal of the senses.
Looking into ahara a level deeper, we learn that there are three (3) levels of intake or 'food':
physical food we use to fuel our body with the five elements,
impressions which fuel our mind - sound, touch, sight and smell, and
associations - the people in our lives who feed our soul and affect our energy levels.
So when we practice Pratyahara we are not only withdrawing from the negative each of these three levels, we are simultaneously creating a pathway to the positive aspects of each of these. For example, in withdrawing from the wrong foods, impressions, and associations we draw in the right foods, impressions, and associations that help free the mind and return to balance. So Pratyahara isn't just about withdrawal, it is about being conscious of everything we feed our bodies with.
Pratyahara is most concerned with the correct management of the mind and the senses and it strengthens our mind's inner powers of immunity; in fact, it is the most important factor in mental wellbeing.
According to Yoga Veda Institute, "Ayurveda recognises that the inappropriate use of the senses is one of the main causes of disease. All mental disease is connected with the intake of unwholesome impressions. Pratyahara, therefore, is an important first step in treating all mental disorders."
As with any of the limbs of yoga, Pratyahara benefits from consistent practice and solid guidance from an experienced teacher. Just like yoga asana, there are many types, steps and techniques, including:
Indriya Pratyahara - Control of the Senses
Prana Pratyahara - Control of the Prana
Karma Pratyahara - Control of Action
Mano Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the Mind
The consistent practice of Pratyahara is essential for the Vata constitution of those who are experiencing an excess of Vata since they tend to experience excessive sensory and mental activity. Vata is restless which distracts the senses, disturbs prana in the body and organs, and makes the mind restless. Practicing Pratyahara will help calm the restless mind and restore the flow of prana to the body, and it can be as little as 3 minutes to 30 minutes - whatever you need to fit into your schedule and bring you back to balance. Try these simple practices:
Prayahara for Vata Dosha
Practice sun or moon salutations or your favorite yoga flow while blindfolded with or without earplugs. The repetitive movements of asanas invigorate the body and add stimulation for Kapha, and creates space for going inward and practicing pratyahara.yahara practice will stimulate Kapha in the right way while allowing the withdrawal of the senses. Try these:ne of these practices to loosen the reins of control and allow yourself to be in union with the Divine:d to fit into your schedule and bring you back to balance. Try these simple practices:
Schedule a time to turn everything off - all screens, notifications and alarms. Use this time to sit comfortably outside. Close your eyes and breathe normally, allowing the mind to settle.
Try making a whole day each week screen-free - no media, no books, no input of data. Spend time outside, drink water and practice stillness.
Use an eye pillow over your eyes to eliminate visual input. Use ear plugs and breathe deeply using elongated exhalations to help calm the body and withdraw into blissful relaxation.
Join one of my SOMA Yoga Nidra sessions.
Spend at least 5-10 minutes each day sitting outside by yourself. Choose a place where you can gaze at the earth or the sky and allow all the other senses to become calm.
Become aware of what you are consuming at all levels (intellectually, emotionally, physically, etc.). Is it nourishing you at all levels or is it harming you? Adjust your inputs and notice the difference.
Pratyahara for Pitta Dosha
Although Pitta types tend to have more control of the senses they do have a tendency towards wanting to control everything, over-doing things like self-education, and taking a martial approach to things. While Pratyahara is focused on the control of the senses, for Pitta types it is a practice of letting as a means to relax the personal will. Experiment with one of these practices to loosen the reins of control and allow yourself to be in union with the Divine:
Find a place in nature to sit, eyes closed and focus only on the sounds you hear around you. Allow the sounds to move freely around you, drawing you deeper within yourself.
Try practicing Bhramari Pranayama (check out my video).
Drop into one of my SOMA Yoga Nidra sessions.
Schedule time to disconnect and free yourself from all the 'doing' by taking time to sit quietly by yourself.
And just like Vata, become aware of what you are consuming at all levels (intellectually, emotionally, physically, etc.). Is it nourishing you at all levels or is it harming you? Adjust your inputs and notice the difference.
Pratyahara for Kapha Dosha
Kapha types tend to suffer from too little activity and can shift into tamasic patterns of laziness, watching television or lounging about the house. If you are predominately Kapha or are currently experiencing a Kapha imbalance, a more stimulating pratyahara practice will stimulate Kapha in the right way while allowing the withdrawal of the senses. Try these:
Practice a visualisation based meditation each day. Here's one I made earlier.
Join a group SOMA Yoga Nidra session with me.
Practice sun or moon salutations or your favorite yoga flow while blindfolded with or without earplugs. The repetitive movements of asanas invigorates the body and adds stimulation for Kapha, and creates space for going inward and practicing pratyahara.
Take time to be in nature. Close eyes and focus only on the sounds. Allow the sounds to shift and change and use each sound to draw you deeper within yourself.
Like Pitta and Vata, become aware of what you are consuming at all levels (intellectually, emotionally, physically, etc.). Is it nourishing you at all levels or is it harming you? Adjust your inputs and notice the difference.
Tim is a certified RYS200 hours Yoga Teacher. He certified as an Advanced Breathwork Instructor and currently studies Ayurveda with Yoga Veda Institute.
When combined with his experience as a life and leadership coach, Tim can help people make dramatic changes in thier overall wellbeing.
To learn more, book a call with Tim at http://book.timsnell.co