Pratyahara: Withdrawing with Intention – Exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga

Pratyahara

When practicing pratyahara we are asked to withdraw from whatever experience we are working through- but to do it with intention and direction.

A previous article in this series, titled Breath, Mind, and the Present, dove into the importance of staying with the breath as a way to stay in the present moment. It spoke to the difficulty of trying to stay in the body, rather than withdrawing into mind when overwhelmed. This type of withdrawal is often a knee jerk reaction that goes unnoticed. We pull away without necessarily going anywhere other than …….away……

Throughout our day to day our minds and bodies are constantly experiencing external stimulations. Sounds, visuals, conversations, stumped toes, or eating lunch on break, we are asked to extend our energy outward in response to what is going on around us. Too often the value of our response, and the value of the stimulus itself, is overlooked. 

Pratyahara, often called the most important limb of yoga, is often the most difficult. It forms the bridge between the first limbs of yoga into the deeper limbs focusing on self. It speaks to the need of the yogi to challenge reactions to external stimuli, as well as internal stimuli, such as mental chatter, and instead go deeper into the quiet of the self.

It beckons us to ask ourselves,

“Am I being intentional in how I interact with my internal and external environments?”

“Can I create quiet, enough to hear my center?”

 

Pratyahara says there are experiences that are opposite, or at times in opposition to the self, but by drawing inward and listening, we can filter out what sensations we want to accept from our mind or environment. We are using the bodily presence of asana, and the energetic presence of pranayam, while fostering growth of the Dharana, Dhyana, and ultimately Samadhi.

In asana, an experience of this would be something like flowing with a blindfold, or soundproof headphones on… It’s difficult, and can really bring up a lot emotionally.

 

Pratyahara, falling in the middle of the eight limbs, also starts to really question the yogi about the why and the what of their practice.

“Why do I work towards Samadhi?”

“Why do I do pranayam?”  

 

Here I am going to take the stance that we do this work not only to withdrawal into ourselves, seeking Samadhi for our own benefit, but because we recognize that we each have dharma that would quite possibly be left unfulfilled without these practices.

Through pratyahara (and all of the limbs really), we withdrawal in order to emerge in a way that is most authentic. We withdraw, listen, and respond so we don’t bypass.

During asana, we meet our edge, and must quiet the mind and listen to the breath to mainain the pose. Pratyahara is about going beyond maintaining and taking the listening deeper… Then putting what you find forth.

It’s happens when you just really thought you couldn’t go deeper but you do, and it all becomes this really authenic expression of your true self.

It becomes withdrawal as a means of resourcing, rather than avoiding, in order to meet what presents itself in our daily grind, and within our own spiritual growth. Withdrawal not from life, and our own internal experience, but from reacting so thoughtlessly to it all.

Staying present and in the moment, by following the breath rather than standard reactions, or the stories of the mind, is given deeper intention when done with pratyahara.

It becomes about taking that ability to maintain presence during conflict or confrontation (with self, or other), and deepening it enough to allow for a more authentic you to respond.

Listen to that deeper self and allow it to be a place from which to respond, so that you can settle into it all in a way that is dictated by you, and not the experience. Each time this happens… each time you listen… you validate and strengthen your center as your guide.

This article is part of a developing series for Be Here Now Network, exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and the ways in which we can deepen our yoga practice by taking its teachings off the mat, and into our daily grind.

Amanda Hart is currently studying art therapy and clinical mental health counseling in the Graduate School of Transpersonal Psychology at Naropa University. She is a 250-hour RYT. Born in the Blue Ridge, and currently transplanting in the Rockies.
This article was written for Be Here Now Network and is not to be replicated without consent. Photo via Pinterest