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THE FIFTH LIMB OF YOGA, PRATYAHARA

Pratyahara is the control or withdrawal of the senses. Prati means away or against, and ahara refers to nourishment. Pratyahara translates as “to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses.” This practice occurs during meditation, breathing exercises, or asanas. Pratyahara is a bridge between yoga’s external aspects – namely yamas, niyamas, asanas, and pranayama, and the internal yoga. The first four limbs of yoga teach us concentration so that we wake up our senses. For example, colors become more vivid, and food tastes more enjoyable. Pratyahara is situated in the middle where outer can become inner. We use postures for concentrating the mind so we can accurately respond to our mental state. Here we arrive at an honest and authentic space for self-reflection.
The internal yoga practices consist of the last three limbs of yoga: Dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (awareness), which we will get into in more detail in articles to follow.

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Our brains are like computers that receive data through the five channels (senses): sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. The data obtained from these senses is assimilated and interpreted by our brains. The purpose of pratyahara is to manage the input of data to help create a unique experience. Sense withdrawal can shift one’s reality and creates a heightened state of awareness. The practice of pratyahara involves directing our attention inward and focusing the mind away from external distractions. Here we can learn not to be influenced by external stimulants and sensations, and we can strive to achieve inner peace and tranquility.

In practice, we approach stilling the mind by shifting the act of sensing from an external to an internal orientation. The feelings and sensations focused on are primarily inside the body, keeping our awareness focused inward. Here we can give full attention to our thoughts, feelings, perceptions, desires, and aversions. In this deep internal awareness, there is an awakening of one’s highest mind. The awakened intellect can create the experience of time slowing down, which also slows the relay of sensory information. The response generated reflects a more accurate reality. If the student hears outside noises, it won’t cause a disturbance in their body or mind. There is space between the world around us and our response to it, enabling us to choose that response instead of merely reacting.

Pratyahara isn’t cutting off the senses. Instead, it engages the senses consciously to have more clarity about what to withdraw from and how. This creates an intimate relationship with our experience of sensation. We generate the intention to be present in every moment. A mind that rests in peace can achieve control of thoughts and actions.

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