PRATYAHARA – the fifth limb
Literally translated, pratyahara means withdrawal from the external senses.
In traditional hinduistic practice, pratyahara is seen as somewhat a bridge between the outer senses and the inner senses.
This means that the consciousness of the individual is internalized in order that the sensations from the senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell don’t reach their respective centers in the brain.
This then enables the yogi to put his or her full attention on the inner senses, which in hinduistic tradition are associated with the divine consciousness or prana itself.
By practicing pratyahara, it is said that the next three limbs of the yoga sutras namely Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (mystical absorption) become the focus of the practitioner.
There are many ways to view pratyahara.
In more traditional terms an “advancing” sadhaka (yoga practitioner), would often deny anything that had to do with the physical senses in order to be stronger in the search for the elusive divine.
It was not uncommon for a sadhaka to withdraw from the world completely and live in a cave with little or no food. This often also meant that a practitioner would forfeit everything in this world including family, children, material possessions etc.
With the advent of the west into the yoga world, however, these practices are not common anymore, although every now and then a “western yogi” gets the “inner calling” to leave the world behind.
Pratyahara the way I see it is very different.
To me pratyahara is simply the ability to look through the senses at will and not be distracted when focusing on reality or love.
Our current world view is such that we divide between the “inner” world and the “outer” world.
The inner world is the world of the psyche (emotions, inner senses, mentality, spirit etc.) as opposed to the outer world which is that of the senses ie. everything that i can touch, see, taste, hear or smell.
The outer world is the 3 dimensional world that we perceive when opening the eyes. I call this the “bubble” of existence because it reminds me of the bubblegum bubbles I blew as a child.
Now, in reality there is no “inner” and “outer”, because EVERYTHING THAT I PERCEIVE, I PERCEIVE WITHIN.
It just appears to be outside of me.
In reality there is no inner and outer, there is only “I” or “me”.
This is also the reason that Hindu religion calls it “maya”, divine illusion.
So pratyahara is nothing else but the recognition that this world is of a somewhat illusionary reality.
The moment this recognition occurs to you is a great energetic moment within the psyche.
Many people that I know have experienced this moment. You most likely included. It is the moment where you realize this existence does not make any sense and you turn your attention inward.
Living pratyahara in this life therefore does not require any physical withdrawal (into my own personal cave or something).
It instead requires me to be very awake and not lose the awareness that this existence is not really real. This existence is more of a like dreamlike reality (lasting about 70 – 100 years).
In pratyahara I stay aware of this dream while knowing that I am dreaming.
So when practicing pratyahara, it is necessary to live totally in this life with all kinds of distractions while not being distracted by my senses.
There is nothing wrong with the senses. The senses are part of our human nature. It took millions of years to develop the senses.
In fact, when practicing pratyahara, the senses are completely open, awake, like a cat that is seemingly sleeping.
Although I can “look through” these worldly affairs and my physical body, for as long as I live, I take every care that this body eats well, sleeps well and lives well.
And although I know that this world is not really real, I do not withdraw from the world and my responsibilities. Instead I participate in the world and radiate love and joy to the life around me.
And why do I say love instead of divine consciousness, moksha, samadhi or purusha?
Because after realizing pratyahara, my attention turns inward and I realize that LOVE IS ALL THERE IS.
Now let us go to limb no.6: Dharana