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Reining in the Senses: The Important Practice of Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the fifth yogic limb in the eight-limb yogic path enunciated by the great sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, often cited as one of the foremost foundational texts of yogic philosophy. Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words — one of which, Ahara, means "food." In this context, Ahara doesn't refer only to the food we eat or imbibe, but anything that satisfies our senses, "food" of every kind: visual stimuli for the eyes, auditory stimuli for the ears, touch stimuli for the skin, inhaled stimuli for the nose.

Our human experience is circumscribed by constantly seeking sensory input. We have a consistent tendency to either take in sensory pleasures or act from inner urges that satisfy them. Both our five cognitive senses and our five expressive senses (our hands, ears, reproductive organs, organ of elimination, and organ of speech) are constantly putting forth effort to express or grab something from the world. The practice of Pratyahara is to voluntarily and consciously restrain those tendencies. Doing so ensures that the mind, the sense organs, and the breath actually create more ability for input.

There are four different types of Pratyahara, each that correspond to a different type of sensory withdrawal. These are: prana-pratyahara (breath control); karma-pratyahara (control of our actions, often to restrain excessive ambitions and compulsiveness); indriya-pratyahara (control of the senses); and mano-pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind).

Each can be likened to the image of turtle pulling his limbs into his shell, or a shivering person grabs their arms and legs closer. In the same way, we want to pull away from what is dangerous, seductive, crazy, and come into the purer space of all of our reactive tendencies settling in into the pure mind. The more we practice Pratyahara, the more we are able to prevents ourselves from getting lost in false ideas, wrong habits, bad company, foolish attachments, and self destructive addictions. It opens the doors to what lies within the true self.

Find a mudra practice below to help begin a practice of Pratyahara!


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