Pratyahara, or "sense withdrawal" (in short) is the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga, but not regularly touched upon in yoga classes. This important study can have a huge effect on physical and mental states and is a tool used regularly in the practice of Ayurveda (a sister science to yoga). This often overlooked limb of yoga is also fundamental to a successful meditation practice... which I needn't tell you is one of life's great healing tools!
So... what exactly is it and would it be useful for me?
Simply, pratyahara is the withdrawing of our senses from negative environmental influences - food, impressions & associations. This covers what we nourish our bodies with (food), what we fuel our thoughts with (impressions) and who we spend our time with (associations).
If we can temporarily and effectively withdraw the senses from negative influences, we can tone and strengthen our senses to longer term immunity.
In Ayurveda, we believe that pratyahara has different benefits for different constitutions or doshas (your physical and mental state - Vata, Pitta, Kapha or any combination of these) and as such can be tailored to suit your needs.
Ayurveda uses pratyahara (alongside many other practices) to balance our doshas and subsequently reduce the risk of physical and mental disease.
How do I go about practising it?
As with any of the limbs of yoga, there is a lifetime of practice required. Pratyahara has many types, steps and techniques but it should be taught by an experienced teacher just as with asana or pranayama. These types include:
If you're new to this 5th limb of yoga, consider making it a regular part of your daily practice. Take the time to read up on it from various sources (there's plenty on a Google search). But most importantly, seek the advice of your teacher or Ayurvedic practitioner and they can assist you on how to begin a pratyahara practice that'll be most suitable to your needs.
In the meantime try these simple techniques, to give pause and healthy immunity to the senses:
Please let us know how you get on with your exploration of this often forgotten but super important limb of yoga.
by Elise Hill
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