Pratyahara starts with unnaming and having a fresh mind

I came across this article, 10 Things About Pratyahara: The Pivotal Moment in a Yogi’s Path, a few weeks ago on pratyahara and found it too good not to share.

Pratyahara, for the uninitiated, is one of the eight “limbs” of yoga, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It’s often translated from Sanskrit into English as “withdrawal of the senses.”

That description may not make much sense to those of us who are aware that our senses — when not engaged externally in seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and touching — are often engaged internally, when we experience internal dialogue or visions, imagination, and memories.

When does it stop? And is pratyahara really about what the senses are engaged or not engaged in? I think it’s more about the direction and freshness of your awareness.

This article points out B.K.S. Iyengar’s belief that when we internally name things we see, such as “tree,” “slugbug,” “cloud,” we are not practicing pratyahara. We do this all the time but may not be conscious of it.

Pratyahara occurs when the naming ends. We are so wedded to knowing. “That is a woman.” “That is a car.” “I am [insert your name or job or sound bite here].” There’s a feeling of triumph — you know! There’s certainty! And once known, it becomes stale.

Pratyahara is fresh.

Pratyahara is like Zen beginner’s mind.

It’s awareness of the samskara of the mind, creating a new direction for awareness. Rather than focusing outward while internally naming, change your mind’s direction and practice unnaming. It’s another awareness practice, another presence practice.

One exercise you can do to begin to practice pratyahara is to go for a walk and deliberately name everything you see. For five minutes, look at it and label it!

Then stop. Just listen for a couple of minutes, listening in an unfiltered way, letting all the sounds come in. You may still notice yourself labeling sounds at first. Go ahead. After you label it, really listen. Notice the gestalt of sound coming into your ears. Hear all the sounds at once!

Then continue walking, but this time walk as if you were seeing for the first time. Notice patterns of light and dark, notice shapes, contrast in colors and textures.

Do sirsasana and view the world upside down. Unname it.

You begin to loosen the grip of knowing.

You begin rewiring.

You begin pratyahara.

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