Pratyahara is a yoga practice that is not usually talked about that means “withdrawal of the senses” or “flowing towards the center.” So often it’s misunderstood or swept under the rug because let’s face it, we are sensual beings with a hunger for experiencing all of life’s pleasures— pain and temptation too.
We know the extra slices of pie, shots of tequila, cheating, or one more chances given to an incompatible lover, eventually causes more harm than good. And yet, there are many reasons why we just cave in and do it, be bad and risky, that usually lie beyond the scope of us trying to make literal sense of it. In the worse case scenarios, we put ourselves down while trying to understand why we do what we do, instead of being forgiving and getting to the root cause of the issues at hand.
Antidotes for Sensory Overload
This is where pratyahara comes into play and we see it in a variety of ways from meditation and chanting to rhythmic ecstatic dancing. Our ancestors passed on these remedies across spiritual traditions to disrupt the mundane habitual flow we sometimes find ourselves in. And who doesn’t want to expand their horizon or break the chains that bind us in a limited reality of five senses? Like the ones that hold us in an objective state—Food for the mass marketed machines, incapable of discernment.
We live in a materialistic world and everywhere we turn there is another product to try or restaurant to visit and this can be fun, exciting, and new. After all, it’s our birth right to feel and desire, be it a brand new flavor a different way or one again that just so happened to hit the spot right. How else do we experience life and evolve?
That is until we have walked a few hundred thousand miles in the same pair of shoes and come to find we need another more durable sole to carry us along. A pair that is a little more everlasting and doesn’t so easily shred. The practice of pratyahara invites us not so much to take a step back, but aside to witness how learned conditional impressions have shaped our perceived reality.
It’s putting on a new pair of shades that don’t block out the rays, but instead turns them inward to offer a fresh perspective into why we do what we do. Tuning in allows us the rare opportunity in an externally stimulated world, to intimately get to know ourselves without getting caught in the hype of always having to do or prove something.
The Way out is In
In a subtle sense, the practice initiates a peeling back of the layers or what is known as koshas or coverings in yoga which include our physical, vital, emotional, intellect, and bliss bodies. We are being invited by pratyahara to respect or look again at what is truly nourishing us and how we are assimilating experiences and exhaling them out onto the planet we share.
Quite contrary to ignoring what comes to surface, pratyahara becomes the root foundation for processing sensory information and triggers such as with trauma from past experiences, without getting caught up in expending all vital energy. It is taking time out the pie of life to rest and digest so that we can expand our limited perceptual capacity.
By simply letting it be what it will be without judgement encourages compassion for oneself and restores vitality. Flowing towards the center with pratyahara is working through the spokes of our limited five senses to navigate the fluctuations of our bodies with clarity from a grounded and centered place. The practice is tuning into the intuited essence at the center of the wheel that can lie masked beneath the rust of always having to indulge or resort back to what is familiar.
Getting a taste of pratyahara plants the seeds for a lifestyle practice of deciphering what one is willing to sacrifice in order to feel holistically satisfied and happy. Those sacrificial seeds then spread to germinate the universal community from where the soil has been fine tilled.