How to successfuly practice pratyāhāra

Post By: Published on: November 26, 2016 Reading time: 5 minutes

Let us revisit the concept of  pratyāhāra.

Introduction: Firstly, the classical definition of pratyāhāra (retreat in Sanskrit) is withdrawal of the senses. Also, since practice of pratyāhāra results in isolation of the Self, it can be called a bridge between activity-based yoga or bahiraṅga (outside arm) and reflection/ meditation-based yoga or antaraṅga (internal arm).

Why is this concept important?

  • Everything we do is for our sense of identity (asmitā).
  • Our sense of Identity exists because someone acknowledges our existence.
  • Hence, with these entities that acknowledge us, we build an existential bond to ensure that we get continuous confirmation of our existence (māya).
  • To sustain our sense of existence, we build multiple bonds and this framework of bonds that conditions our behaviour and ultimately define our identity. This is called dharma or conditioning.
  • Within our bonds, we either find congruence or dissonance of dharma or conditioning in the bond and this causes and movement towards or away from the other entity. This is karma or action.

Dharma or conditioning impacts our ability to succeed in pratyāhāra.

Dharma or conditioning covers more than just human conditioning. It covers all existence. Dharma is the “rule of natural state” which defines the existence and role of each entity in the universe.

Let us start by looking at the dharma of a few entities.

  • A waveform – a wave is an oscillation, vibration or disturbance pattern, each wave having a different connotation. Waves can be mechanical, electromagnetic or gravitational but each is different. However, each can be shown to exhibit a unique manifestation of an identity by way of different amplitude, frequency, wavelength and speed.
  • Elements – all matter comprise of elements, each having a unique identity. For example – Hydrogen’s identity is known by its atomic number 1 and atomic weight of 1.007. It behaves in a manner particular to an element having the above atomic weight and number. Should the atomic number become 2, the element will become Helium, having completely different behaviour.
  • Combination – when elements combine, they form molecules. Water, the most abundant of resources, is a combination of two Hydrogen and one Oxygen atoms. The resulting water molecule is nothing like its constituent elements, but water has a unique identity and its behaviour is unique. This is its natural state or dharma.
How does this impact the body?
  • The body – within the body, the heart is built in a particular manner and performs a function. This cannot be replicated by another organ, such as the kidney, stomach or liver. Also, the heart functions in the same manner, whether in a pig, goat, frog or shark. This tells us that the heart has a dharma, as does each organ in the body.
  • The organs of the body cannot function outside the body, the body cannot function outside the earth. Similarly, the earth cannot function outside the solar system because it is held in place by the relative position of the Sun and other planets. Each of these entities, no matter how big or small have an identity and a function which is inviolate. The lion will always be a predator, a deer always a prey. The roles can never be reversed, this conditioning of each entity is dharma. Since this concept is so universal and all-encompassing, it is called sanātana-dharma (universal natural state).

How is pratyāhāra integrated into rāja-yoga.

Rāja-yoga is a philosophical exercise in regression where we move from current state of existence to the root of our identity. We do this by slowly isolating elements that make us dependent on outside stimulus for our sense of identity.

The classical definition of pratyāhāra (retreat in Sanskrit) is withdrawal of the senses.

Why is this stage important? Rāja-yoga consist of 2 major stages –

  • kriya-yoga – where person lives in the material world but practices goals that slowly make him independent of outside influences. Firstly, fear of loss of relationships is managed through yama and niyama. Next, physical, physiological and psychological fitness is managed through use of āsana and prāṇāyāma. Finally, this is consolidated through pratyāhāra which is isolation of the senses from stimuli.
  • samyama-yoga – where a person consolidates the above found independence and focuses on complete renunciation of materiality (māyā), which is samādhi.

Therefore, serious practice of pratyāhāra will make the practitioner withdraw from society and evolve spiritually with a deeper understanding of the self.

For normal people, pratyāhāra becomes important because it generates an internal retreat, a place where they are in full control of themselves. Also, it provides the most appropriate platform for meditation (dhyāna) because the Self gets cleansed by āsana, prāṇāyāma and pratyāhāra, therefore becomes a fitting vehicle for meditation (dhyāna).

To understand how to integrate yama and niyama into pratyāhāra, click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *