What is Pratyahara in Yoga?

Pratyahara es la retirada de los sentidos para concentrarnos en el interior.

Pratyahara is the “withdrawal” of the senses, the process of internalizing attention and turning it away from external stimuli. Instead of allowing our senses to dominate us, we seek to control our reaction to stimuli and direct our attention inward.

To better understand, we need to know the eight components of Ashtanga Yoga as described by the sage Patanjali in the“Yoga Sutras”:

  • Yama: Universal ethical principles (such as non-violence, truth, not stealing).
  • Niyama: Personal disciplines or practices (such as purity, contentment, self-study).
  • Asana: Physical postures.
  • Pranayama: Breath control.
  • Pratyahara: Withdrawal or control of the senses.
  • Dharana: Concentration.
  • Dhyana: Meditation.
  • Samadhi: State of superconsciousness or enlightenment.

As we can see, Pratyahara is the fifth step and is considered a prerequisite to prepare the mind for the innermost stages of yoga, which are concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana) and finally Samadhi. Through the practice of Pratyahara we disengage from external distractions and learn to focus on self-knowledge and introspection. It is a transition between the external practices of yoga (such as postures and breath control) and the internal practices (such as concentration and meditation).

How to Practice Pratyahara

By nature, human beings are designed to interact with our environment through the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. These senses not only provide us with information about the world around us, but also influence the way we perceive reality, our desires, aversions and, in general, our experience of life. In most circumstances, we are so immersed in sensory input that we rarely question or control the influence these stimuli have on us.

Pratyahara is the art of learning to disconnect from all the constant sensory input that bombards us in order to connect with our inner self. There are different types of practices that we can carry out to cultivate Pratyahara. Below we are going to describe some of them to give you a rough idea but if you understand the concept you can create your own exercises adapted to your needs:

Control of the senses

First of all, it is important to emphasize that this control implies a suppression or denial of the senses, but a conscious management of how we interact and react to them. Each of our senses, be it sight, hearing, touch, taste or smell, acts as a window that connects us with the outside world. These senses, by their nature, constantly seek stimulation. However, when we allow them to function unrestrained, mechanically and unconsciously, they can easily pull us into desires, aversions and distractions.

To control our senses, the first step is conscious observation. As in meditation, where we observe our thoughts without judging them, in sense control we become conscious witnesses to sensory inputs. For example, when we hear a sound, instead of reacting impulsively, we simply notice it, recognize it, and then consciously decide how to respond (or not respond) to it.

We can begin our practice with simple exercises such as sitting quietly with our eyes closed, concentrating only on the sounds in our environment. As we listen, instead of labeling or judging the sound, simply notice and release it. This exercise can be repeated with other senses, such as touch, paying attention to sensations on the skin, or smell, perceiving the different aromas in the air.

With time and practice we will stop being slaves to our senses. Instead of being dragged along by them, we learn to interact with the world in a more deliberate and conscious way. This ability to direct and withdraw our attention to our will is very important on the path of yoga, allowing us to delve deeper into more advanced practices, as well as providing us with greater peace of mind.

Sensory Fasting

Sensory fasting consists of the reduction or elimination of sensory input for a set period of time. This can take the form of practices such as remaining silent, avoiding exposure to screens, or immersing ourselves in darkness. When we disconnect from external stimuli, we create a space for the mind to detoxify from the constant barrage of information and distractions to which we are exposed.

This practice can act as a mirror, reflecting our unconscious dependencies and habits. We may discover, for example, how addicted we are to certain stimuli, such as the constant scrolling on social networks or the need for background music. This awareness is the first step in making more conscious choices about how we interact with the world.

Observing Sensory Reactions

We live constantly surrounded by sensory stimuli to which we react automatically in unconscious ways in most cases. These reactions range from feelings of pleasure or displeasure to more complex responses such as memory or emotion. Rarely do we stop to examine these responses consciously. This is where the practice of observing our sensory reactions becomes an opportunity to become aware of ourselves.

When we take a moment to observe how we respond to stimuli, whether it is a scent, a sound, an image, or the sensation of touching something, we begin to unravel the layers of conditioning and habit that influence our reactions. For example, the smell of a specific food might evoke childhood memories and, with it, feelings of nostalgia. By being aware of this reaction, we not only understand the resulting emotion, but also the connection between the stimulus and our personal history.

Conscious observation of our sensory reactions allows us to distance ourselves from them. Instead of being swept up in the cascade of automatic responses, we can choose to remain an unbiased witness. This distance gives us greater freedom to choose how we want to respond, rather than simply react.

This mindful observation can also be the gateway to deeper meditation. It offers us a point of focus, an object of meditation in itself. By paying attention to how we interact with the world on a sensory level, we move toward a deeper understanding of ourselves and how we react to the outside.

Savasana

One of the simplest practices we can use for Pratyahara practice is to focus on our bodily sensations while in corpse pose or Savasana. We lie down on the mat or on our own bed, close our eyes and focus all our attention on the bodily sensations that arise. This allows us to disconnect from the outside and become aware of what is happening in our own body.

The Benefits of Pratyahara

As we deepen the practice of Pratyahara, it is possible to observe certain emerging benefits. One of the most notable is the development of a calmer and more stable mind. When we are not constantly reacting to stimuli, our mind can remain in a state of serenity even in situations that previously might have been disturbing. In addition, our ability to concentrate is intensified. Freeing ourselves from the constant distraction of the senses allows us to focus our attention more easily and deeply, which is essential for more advanced meditative practices. This, in turn, facilitates a deeper state of self-knowledge and connection with our being.

Keep in mind that Pratyahara is not just about repressing or ignoring the senses. It is about establishing a more conscious and balanced relationship with them. Instead of being slaves to our perceptions and reactions, we learn to be their masters, choosing when and how we want to interact with the environment around us. This mastery over one’s own sensory experience also has practical implications in our lives. It helps in making more conscious and balanced decisions, as we are no longer being driven by sensory whims or automatic reactions. It also provides us with greater resistance to stress and distractions, allowing for greater efficiency and ability to focus on our daily activities.

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