Pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of yoga, asks us to rein in our senses and withdraw from sensory pleasures. As an ongoing practice, it can make us sovereign masters of our own mind — instead of the mind being pulled in different directions by wayward senses, we become the owners of a serene mind. When the mind is pulled back from the world, it encounters the soul — the Self, the Atma.
But what does this mean for Kama, one of the Purusharthas (four goals for conscious living), which instructs us to seek and enjoy the pleasures of the world? The Vedas recommend both seeking pleasure, and the yogic discipline of Pratyahara. The Vedas ask us to both enjoy our senses, and withdraw from them. Is this a contradiction?
The important thing to remember here is that indulgence in Kama without a prior inward journey — without the sincere practice of Pratyahara and the intentional experience of our senses being more disciplined and inwardly reined in when we want them to be so, rather than the frenetic movement outward from one pleasure to the next — can be a slippery slope to a degenerative, self-sabotaging life. By practicing Pratyahara, we support Kama to become established in our Dharma — we begin to understand what is truly beneficial not only for ourselves, but for the planet and all its inhabitants too. In this way, Pratyahara becomes an inner guidance system; a kind of GPS that directs us toward the things that bring us true pleasure and joy, which is the pursuit of Dharmic or ethically-sourced Kama.
In this way, Pratyahara allows us to unabashedly pursue pleasure, in a way supported by Dharma, rather than in a grasping kind of way that could potentially allow those pleasures to send us down the slippery slope. Supported by Pratyahara, the pursuit of pleasure will only support YOUR inner goddess!