Pratyahara and Yoga: Pratyahara is rung five of the eight rungs. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses (indriyas) from both the external world and the images or impressions in the mind. (2.54). The senses are available for our protection, as they are in other animals. They are not meant to control our behaviour.
Gaining mastery over the senses: Our senses seem to drag us around in the external world, whether pursuing material objects, food, or circumstances related to professional, social, or economic life.
We have a choice in how much our senses control our lives. We can choose to not allow sense stimulation make our decisions. Often these decisions are made spontaneously and not well thought through. When we see an item in a shop window, we can allow ourselves to appreciate its beauty but that does not have to develop into craving. We are able to not let the senses control our behaviour. We often have difficulty controlling the senses when it comes to food. When we see or smell food that does not have to be transferred into craving. We should only eat when we need to, not because of sense stimulation.
As we initially begin to practise pratyahara we consciously evaluate the sense stimulants and say ‘no’ to the senses. The more we practise this process the more a natural response of sense withdrawal develops. Of course all the senses still operate as effectively as before, but we are able to discriminate between what is a necessary sense stimulant and what is an external craving. Through the routine practice of pratyahara, we gradually gain positive control (2.55) over the mind being obsessively drawn towards all of those objects. This is a further refinement of minimizing the coloring of the mind field (2.1-2.9), and the third Niyama, which is Tapas, or training the senses (2.43). The senses are said to follow the mind in the same way the hive of bees follows the queen bee. Wherever she goes, they will follow. Similarly, if the mind truly goes inward, the senses will come racing behind.
Cessation of engagement, not suppression: Sense withdrawal means that the senses cease to be engaged or connected to the objects. It does not mean the suppression, repression, or stopping of those thoughts. They may naturally slow down or decrease to some degree, but the method itself is to break the contact, to cease connecting with the thought patterns. This means allowing thoughts to flow without interruption, while the senses are simply not diverted into those thoughts.
In Pratyahara it is as if our senses are open with all their attractions before us, but they are ignored, our senses remain unmoved.
Why Practise Pratyahara? The practice of Pratyahara allows us to withdraw from an environment of constant craving which inevitably only brings dissatisfaction and unhappiness. To be free of constant wants and desires allows us to focus on areas of our life that a more important. Whether that is family relationships, our work, or our own spiritual development. Once we a free from the distractions of the continual craving of the senses we can begin to focus our attention on meditation. We can develop a stillness and calmness within which allows us to live our life with more clarity and peace.
How to put the practice of Pratyahara into everyday life: When we practise Pratyahara we take back control of our lives. We are no longer living with a sense of always wanting, or craving. We no longer interchange needs and wants. We are able to distinguish between what is necessary in our lives and what is a sensory craving. There is a freedom in this realization. We don’t always have to have everything so we can relax a bit more. Do we need to work those extra hours to make more money. Probably not! We start to make choices about what is really important in our life and acknowledge what is not.
We can survive with one tv in the house, without the new pair of shoes and without eating until we can eat no more. Food in particular is an area we can begin to cut back on. If it’s not sustaining our body then we don’t need it. That’s not to say a few chocky bickies here and there isn’t allowed, it’s about eating what is required rather than overeating.
As external sensory stimulation is overcome we can begin to look within and start to investigate our inner self without all the distractions of the outside world. We can become peaceful and content.