Drew Perry

SUTRA II-54

Withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects, and then drawing them inwards towards the seer, is pratyahara.  

 

The fifth of the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is pratyahara, or sense withdrawal.

We’ve already looked at the first four limbs, which are oriented outwardly and are about practice. The fifth limb is the first of the eight which focuses more on the inward journey. B.K.S. Iyengar states that pratyahara is the transition from “practice” (the first four limbs) to “renunciation” (the last four limbs).  These two concepts are the twin pillars of a yoga life.

Our senses normally draw us out of ourselves as we interact with the world around us. The sounds, sights, tastes and sensations of our environment pull the mind in the direction of objects and the actions of others.  While we need the senses for daily life, we can easily become caught up in the world of objects and neglect the inner life of self, consciousness and spirit.

Asana and pranayama certainly help us to turn away from an external pre-occupation toward a focus on our personal experience of body and breath, but pratyahara is a more conscious effort to reduce external sensory stimulus. San mukhi mudra is one example of this effort – we physically close off the senses to foster an inner focus.

Prashant Iyengar has reminded us that we should seek some of savasana in every pose. To do that, you need to practice restraint/renunciation/sense withdrawal within the pose. Try bringing this orientation into your next practice.