Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is derived from two Sanskrit words- Prati and Ahara, where Prati means away or against and Ahara means nourishment.
Pratyahara translates as to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses. This is the fifth limb amongst the eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga.
The first four limbs of Yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and the last three are Dharna, Dhyana & Samadhi. The mind is controlled & channeled by following the disciplines of Yama and Niyama, while Asana and Pranayama direct and guide the mind to move and know the inner self of the body. Hence the root of Pratyahara is in Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama.
It means the ethical discipline of Yama and Niyama – Physical and physiological discipline by Asana, and psycho-spiritual reaction, makes the mind ripe to follow Pratyahara. It is built brick by brick through Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama and is used in Dharna, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
THE INDRIYA (The sense organs)
The senses that are withdrawn in Pratyahara are called, “Indriyas,” and involve both cognition (Jnanendrriyas) and expression (Karmendrriyas). There are ten indriyas or senses. The five cognitive senses, which are called Jnanendriyas, come from the roots Jnana (wisdom) and Indra, who was the God of the ‘sensory’ heaven in Hinduism. They are Shotra (ears), Chakshu (eyes), Grahna (nose), Jivha (tongue), Tvak (skin).
The five means of expression are called Karmendriyas. They are Pada (feet) Pani (hands), Vak (mouth), Payu (rectum), and Upastha (genitals). These ten sense organs receive their instructions and directions by Manas (mind, intellect, memory & ego). The senses are generally turbulent and restless. We have very little control on them. Through the practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama, the senses become more restrained and at peace.
INDRIYA-PRATYAHARA (Control of the Senses)
Indriya-Pratyahara, or control of the senses, is the most important form of Pratyahara. The question in Pratyahara is what to withdraw first – the senses from the sense object or the mind from the senses. In the normal state of perception, the senses become active first and then the mind follows. Once you are able to withdraw, dissociate, and internalize it, the senses will follow the mind; this is the secret of Pratyahara.
So, the answer of Pratyahara is to first withdraw the mind from the senses and not the withdrawal of the senses from the sense object. It does not happen easily. One has to learn to control them cautiously by attending to their moods, modes, and rectifications. In Pratyahara, we try to put the senses in their proper place, but at the same time, we do not cut them out of our actions entirely.
OCCURING OF PRATYAHARA
In Pratyahara, the senses remain unmoved and uninfluenced. For example, when we are totally absorbed in the breath during Pranayama, Pratyahara occurs quite automatically. The mind is so intensely occupied with the breath that all links between mind, senses, and external objects, that have nothing to do with the breath, are cut off.
The senses are quite capable of responding, but they do not because they have withdrawn or detached. Pratyahara occurs automatically, when we meditate precisely, because the mind is so focused that the senses follow it. A person experiences this state, to a degree, just before going to sleep or upon awakening. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint, interiorisation, or Pratyahara.
MEANS OF PRATYAHARA
Pratyahara is rather a state that occurs spontaneously. It happens by itself. We cannot make it happen. We can only practice the means by which it might happen. It has been taken both as Abhyasa (practice) and Prakriya (process).
As a practice, Pratyahara is practiced by sitting quietly for some time and trying to withdraw the sensory awareness inside, by maintaining the witnessing attitude. As a Prakriya, or process, it goes on all the time in our daily life – i.e. the witnessing attitude develops and the ego becomes detached and unaffected, even in the midst of activity. When the ego is detached, it does not feel insecure, due to the presence of frustrations, tensions, and conflicts.
Yoga Nidra, Antar mouna, Trataka, and Ajapa Japa are important methods of Pratyahara. In every method, the technique is different but the aim is the same – i.e. to become internalized without the involvement of ‘I’ ness (ego). Learn these above methods from some qualified Yoga instructor and practice them for one hour daily. I am giving details of one of the methods – Trataka.
TRATAKA (The practice of gazing at one point)
Trataka falls into two groups- Pratyahara and Dharana. Pratyahara Trataka is gazing at an external point, such as a candle. Trataka helps to control the dissipation that occurs when we become aware of form.
TECHNIQUE OF TRATAKA
• Sit peacefully with straight spine in front of a candle – in a least lighted room.
• Light the candle and place it on a small bench at a distance of 2 feet from the eyes.
• Now watch the flame of the candle, or the wick of the candle, continuously and steadily.
• When you feel that your eyes are exhausted, close the eyes and try to visualize the flame of the lamp with closed eyes. Try to feel the flame inside you – between your eyebrows.
• When this image disappears, re-open the eyes and again start gazing at the flame tip to re-establish the image in your mind; continue this experiment several times.
• While gazing at the candle, engage your mind with chanting Omkar / Bhramari / watching on the breath.
• Initially gaze for 2-3 minutes. Increase the duration of gazing each time, and do it for a maximum possible duration of about 15-20 minutes; but undue strain should not be taken.
• In ending this exercise, slowly close the eyes and lie down in Shavasana for some time.
• You can freshen up the eyes afterwards by rinsing them carefully, and gently, with cold water.
Once you achieve success in practicing Pratyahara, you reach a stage where new Samskaras and new Vasanas are no longer created. The Yogi is able to put a stop to this process of the creation of additional new Samskaras and Vasanas. The perceived objects do not impinge upon the consciousness any more. The mind becomes gradually transformed into a Yogic mind; an indrawn mind (an Antarmukha Manas). Your mind will be yourself. Instead of your feeling that it is “your” mind, you will feel that you are “yourself” the mind – a medium of the expression of the Atman Itself. A great unlimited joy will take possession of you. That is success in Pratyahara.
Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio. A popular studio that helps you find natural solutions for complete health.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh(India).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).
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