Our hope in providing a studio theme at Kula each month is to deepen your understanding of the philosophy behind yoga, so you can start living yoga both on and off the mat. This year we will be exploring the traditional 8 Limbs of Yoga. The practice of yoga is an art and science dedicated to creating union between the body, mind and spirit. These eight steps basically act as a guideline on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Our March focus is Pratyahara, or “withdrawal of the senses”.
Pratyahara is the fifth step or limb of the traditional 8 Limbs of Yoga and perhaps the most difficult to grasp. In a society where we are constantly externally feeding our senses, to ask us to withdraw from this for many can be a challenge.
Pratyahara… the movement of the mind toward silence rather than toward things.
~ Donna Farhi
What is Pratyahara?
In a world driven by our senses, Pratyahara moves us towards a “conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses”. Not only is it an integral part of all the other limbs, but it is also the bridge between the external and internal practice. In fact, without Pratyahara, the final three limbs of yoga cannot be attained. Pratyahara is thought to be the most challenging of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and therefore is also considered the “forgotten limb of yoga”. With our ultimate aim being to move towards meditation, jumping from our physical practice to an internal practice of the mind, is difficult. Pratyahara deals with what lies between, the external factors that clutter our mind.
When we control our senses by withdrawing our mind’s attention from them, we quieten the mind chatter so we can concentrate.
One way to test how difficult pratyahara is to attain, according to B.K.S. Iyengar, is to go for a walk and at the same time try not to comment or judge or even name what you see, hear or smell.
Pratyahara practices lead to a profound state of relaxation, expanded self-awareness, and inner stability. They help us master both the body and the mind.
~ Yoga International
Pratyahara ~ On The Mat
How do we explore Pratyahara on the mat? Often when we find ourselves in a moment of stillness, whether it be in a pose, engaging in meditation or Savasana, and our mind begins to wander. We find ourselves in judgement about whether to stay in the pose, whether we’re doing it correctly, how we look, what we have going on after class. Our focus becomes about the “external” factors of either the pose or our lives. When you find the mind is busy, practice pratyahara by drawing your energy away from these external factors. The yogic practice of pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, helps us have control over them and use them well, rather than being distracted by them. So, instead of focusing your thoughts about the pose, focus on the pose itself and draw yourself into the present moment. Choose your senses one by one and truly experience them.
Pratyahara ~ In Life
Much like your practice of pratyahara on the mat, we apply the same principles in every day life. How often are you performing a task, but your mind is elsewhere? Driving the car, during a meeting, in conversation, multi-tasking at every opportunity. Our senses are extraordinary tools, but they can also pull our attention in different directions, at times quite unconsciously. So, be conscious and present in every moment. Practicing pratyahara is a challenging and long process, but start by taking mini-breaks from the senses – here is a great resource on “modern methods” of practicing pratyahara
Try this one, which Iyengar suggests: when you breathe out, at the end of the exhale, breath out a bit more.
About the author: Andy Broadbear is a qualified yoga teacher & therapist, who specialises in pre + postnatal yoga, and studio assistant at Kula. She is also a mum of two, health & wellness blogger and photographer.
Kula Yoga has a beautiful hot yoga studio on Camberwell Rd, Hawthorn, Melbourne. Kula offers ‘Hot Yoga’ classes for detoxification, dynamic poweryoga ‘Flow Yoga’ as well as a gentle ‘Light Yin Yoga’ option. Beginners through to advanced students are welcome to all classes. Kula also provides prenatal & postnatal yoga classes, and provides Melbourne workplaces with group corporate yoga programs to build employee health, fitness and wellbeing, and school yoga programs. Kula also runs an annual ‘Kula Cruise’ yoga retreat sailing from Bali to Lombok & the Gili Islands. Find out more on our website www.kulayoga.com.au. Or follow us:
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