The 8 Limbs Of Yoga Explained
The fifth step of the eight-limbed path is Pratyahara – which is defined as complete withdrawal from the senses. It can be confusing for yoga students. The previous limbs encourage you to live consciously in the present moment, becoming more in touch with your senses and now suddenly you are asked to withdraw from them. The first four limbs are about action, the way you present yourself in the world – but once you get to the fourth limb, they start to focus on the re-action and internal concepts.
We live in a time when our senses are constantly being stimulated. Screens dominate most of our day-to-day lives. Whether that’s computers, televisions, phones or tablets, we always seem to be looking at one. Because of this steady influx of new technology literally hijacking our attention, we feel restless and agitated when we are not stimulated. As a society, we are constantly on the go. So much so that many of us now find relaxation difficult. We are continually moving from one activity to the next. One minute you’re at work, the next you’re putting on your workout clothes for the gym, and the next you’re buying the groceries. Our lives have turned into never-ending to-do lists. Pratyahara reminds us to take a step back from the technological overload and slow down, encouraging us to become comfortable with peace.
Many practicing yogis can start to understand Pratyahara through the posture that comes at the very end of a yoga class – savasana (corpse pose). After a dynamic physical practice of asana and pranayama, the class will conclude with yogis lying on their backs in their yoga pants, palms facing upwards and eyes closed. As the body starts to surrender completely, all control on the breath and the mind dissolves, and your awareness of the outside world begins to change. You will find yourself in a state where you can still be connected to the world around you, but you are less reactive to its effect on your senses. For example, in savasana, you may be unfazed by the sounds of traffic outside the studio.
Pratyahara is not about completely withdrawing from the world around you. Instead, it is about cultivating an awareness of your reactions, understanding there is a space between the outside world and your responses to it. Through savasana, you experience a partial withdrawal from the physical world. You can still register sounds and smells around you. Yet, you do not get ‘caught up’ in them. In this experience of non-reactive wakefulness, you will find Pratyahara.
So How Can You Practice Pratyahara?
We can first introduce pratyahara into our lives through our asana practice. When you are in a pose, it is important to notice the quality of your thoughts. Once you are aware of the busyness in your mind, you can work on withdrawing your energy from your thoughts and channeling your focus into the pose itself.
Of course, it is easy to refocus your mind when you are in a calming yoga class. The real challenge is being able to do this when you are four hours past lunch time and waiting for the working day to end. By practicing pratyahara we become able to control our reactions in stressful situations, and it becomes a powerful tool for improving our daily lives.