Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Fifth Limbs of Yoga – Pratyahara

Without the protection of bark, the tree would be eaten away by worms. That covering protects the energy flowing inside the tree between the leaves and the root. The bark thus corresponds to pratyahara, which is the inward journey of the senses from the skin towards the core of the being.

When you are thoroughly and totally absorbed in your presentation of asanas, forgetting neither the flesh nor senses that is pratyahara.

The fifth limbs of yoga is known as pratyahara – a word that is traditionally translated as “control of the senses” or “sensory fasting.” The essence of pratyahara is temporarily withdrawing from the world of intense, externally imposed stimulation so that we can tune into our subtle sensory experiences.

Yoga and Ayurveda recommend that we take time to disengage from the exterior world so that we can hear our inner voice more clearly. Meditation is a form of pratyahara since, in the space of restful awareness, we disengage from the outside environment. When the mind’s attention is withdrawn from the sensory field, the senses naturally come to rest. In a way, pratyahara can be seen as sensory fasting.

The word pratyahara is comprised of the root prati meaning “away” and ahara meaning “food.” If we fast for a period of time, the next meal we eat will usually be exceptionally delicious. Yoga suggests that the same concept applies to all our experiences in the world. If we take the time to withdraw from the world for a little while, we will find that our experiences are more vibrant.

There are many pratyahara practices. They can be elaborate as going on an extended retreat in a mountain cabin or as simple as setting up an altar or healing space where you can meditate and settle into more expanded states of awareness on a daily basis.

Pratyahara also means paying attention to the sensory impulses we encounter throughout the day, limiting to the greatest extent possible those that are toxic, and maximizing those that are nourishing to our body, mind, and soul. It’s about being aware of and doing our best to avoid situations, circumstances, and people who deplete our vitality and enthusiasm for life.

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