Pratyahara, as the 5th limb of the Astanga Yoga System, is the essential prerequisite for moving deeper into proper meditation.
What Is Pratyahara- The 5th Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga
Pratyahara traditionally translates as:
Withdrawal From The Senses
This means that in a state of deep Pratyahara, our attention is taken away from all the usual objects that it has learnt to focus on.
The five senses – sight, sound, scent, touch and taste, although still available, in a way, become dormant.
Just closing your eyes for a few moments as we all know, shuts out all the visual stimulus.
So think additionally, blocking your ears, switching off your tastebuds and nose and skin sensations.
Imagine what this would be like for a moment…
The world in our perception would be simply blank. It would be neither hot or cold, light or dark or any other common impression we are used to.
Imagine – no city, no cars, no noise, phones, computers, advertisements, colours and everything else.
Most probably this isn’t very appealing to most of us.
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Experience The Serenity
However, in terms of meditation and ‘going within’, it is a most excellent state.
In this actually ‘peaceful’ state, we could at the very least rest a bit without all the normal worries and concerns.
We could have a very neutral view of our lives, friends, circumstances and so on.
Pratyahara The 5th Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga – An Essential Prerequisite For Meditation
So, Pratyahara, as the 5th limb of the Astanga Yoga system, is the essential prerequisite for moving deeper into proper meditation.
Of course, this makes perfect sense, since any ‘information’ coming through any of our five senses, would be a distraction.
We still have to deal with our jumpy, monkey minds as well…
But a good Pratyahara state helps a lot.
It’s not really so hard to get an experience of the process if you are keen.
To master this and enter at will into a kind of deep blank, ‘void’ state is very difficult indeed.
But thankfully we can all start simply.
How To Attain Pratyahara
I would suggest that you decide ahead of time when you are going to try this.
Say later in the evening when everything is much quieter.
” Early mornings also work well”.
- Make sure you have not eaten a large meal nor are you hungry as both will interfere.
- No strong stimulants such as caffeine for at least 8 hours before as this will give you jumpy nerves.
- Not too tired or wide awake and energised as well.
- I like to use a spare room if possible where I am not disturbed, use a bed or comfortable cushions, but do not adopt your usual sleeping position as this will send you straight to sleep.
- So we get very comfortable and warm. Use a blanket and wear your most comfortable clothes.
- I like a cover over my eyes and ears, but not too much weight.
- Just the darking out and a slight pressure around the head.
- Once you have all this in place, simply relax and rest for a few moments.
- I then take some very easy and relaxing breaths with a lot of emphasis on the exhalation – at least twice as long as the inhale.
- Keep it very natural and well within your abilities.
- Pranayamas such as easy Ujjayi Breath and easy Villoma are great.
- Not too many rounds, maybe 5 or 6. See how you feel and make sure you have the intention (sankalp) of relaxing and releasing.
Pratyahara: Lying Or Seated
Although this is usually done upright, it can be done perfectly well in a lying position although the action will be different.
- To do this now in an easy ‘shortcut’ way without having to do special breathing exercises and so on, simply close and then rotate your eyes slowly in a lazy circle .
- Starting on one side, place your attention with your eyes and move slowly around with both eyes and attention to the other side.
- Keep rotating slowly side to side for a few cycles and then change direction to rotate the other way.
- Your eyes are closed, but you can imagine a bit what the room would look like or even outside the room.
- This is a good thing to do since it also helps us take our attention away from the actual five senses.
- After a little while of eye rotations you can release this and just remain as still and empty as possible.
- Let all the physical sensations empty away and try to remain absolutely motionless from out and within.
Now the inner pictures and words will be much calmer and hopefully you will notice some big spaces in between one thought and the next.
Once again, having the intention to attain this will be very helpful.
So now the last part for a while, back to imagining, see and feel yourself with your inner sense, as if you were floating in a big sphere of complete emptiness. Just nothing at all. It’s actually very peaceful and nothing bad will happen whatsoever.
On the contrary, it is a most replenishing practice to do.
Feel gradually that all your five senses have become dormant, still, empty and at rest.
After some time of this, simply decide to come back to normal and gently process yourself back.
Do this slowly and without any jerky action.
Take a few minutes to return. The whole practice could be around 20 minutes.
On another occasion, once you have done the lying down version for some days, try to sit.
It’s a little harder but with some effort we can get a good level of sense withdrawal. Then the last step if you are a committed Yogi would be to integrate the Pratyahara wisdom and knowledge into your usual meditation sessions to set you up for a deeper, quality time.
Wrapping Up- Pratyahara – 5th Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga
When done regularly and as part of a balanced program, the practice of Pratyahara will greatly assist with many common issues.
Among these would be stress release, promotes balanced all round health, sleep easier and more peacefully at night, may help to balance hormonal issues, calms down nerves and other psychological agitation, general restorative action for the body, mind and spirit.
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About The Author
Paul Carlos is the founder of Sacred Spiral Yoga School, an accredited Yoga Teachers Training provider with Yoga Alliance International. Paul has been involved with Yoga and other disciplines for the last 35 years and is further a musician focusing on sacred and classical music.
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