Pratyahara is the fifth stage in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. This word is a combination of two sanskrit words: Prati means “against” or “withdrawal,” and Ahara means “food” or any external thing that we allow into ourselves. So Pratyahara is withdrawing of anything that we take in; in short, it is known as withdrawal of the senses. This stage is where practicing Yoga starts to become a real challenge. The four other limbs that precede Pratyahara are generally “easier” because they’re things that we can take action on. Living in a world where we have so many things at our disposal, practicing pratyahara is a lot tougher but absolutely necessary.
The first thing I tend to do when I wake up in the morning is to check the time on my Fitbit or on my phone. (I usually wake up before my alarm goes off, so I like to check the time to see how long I have left before I need to get out of bed.) Once I’m up, I get ready for the day and then go downstairs into the kitchen to make myself some tea. While I’m drinking my tea, I read my Bible and pray. Depending on whether or not I’m teaching that morning, I will either make breakfast or go into my home yoga studio and set up my equipment to teach virtually on Zoom. From early afternoon until early evening, I either work on business-related tasks, exercise, run errands, or work on homeschool-related things. In the early evenings, I have dinner with my family, teach evening classes, virtually meet with private clients, attend virtual midweek church services, or watch Netflix with my family. By the end of the week, it’s easy to feel drained because of all the different things that were demanding attention of my senses: Sense of taste, smell, sight, touch, and hearing. I feel that we need to take time to practice Pratyahara more than ever before.
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
1 Corinthians 9:24-27
I’m grateful for our senses. I’m grateful that I can wake up every morning hearing the birds chirping in my yard, taste the warm cup of tea, smell the aroma of my scented candles, see the beautiful roses outside my window and feel the loving hugs from my family. I’m also grateful for technology; if it weren’t for WiFi and my laptop, publishing my weekly blogs wouldn’t take place. I’m grateful that I can keep in touch with my family and childhood friends through social media. But it is so easy to become so attached to these things that we don’t stop to completely withdraw from all the physical, mental and emotional noises. When I meditate, I use earplugs to block out all the noise and go into one of our walk-in closets and turn the light off. I start with a pranayama practice and then sit still to just “Be.”
“Be still and know that I am God.”
It’s amazing how deeply you can connect with God when you stop all the inner chatter and outer distractions. This practice of Pratyahara isn’t something you will “master” right away. In fact, I don’t know if there is such a thing as mastering complete sense withdrawal while you’re still alive because being physically alive requires us to engage in our senses; However, it is so essential for our well-being to routinely unplug and decompress so that we can be filled up with the goodness of God. I encourage you to start with just 5 minutes of sitting still, create evenness in the breath (inhaling for the same length of time as exhaling), and just observe. Be fully present in each moment, and see what God reveals to you.