Pratyahara... Where do you put your energy?
EXCERPT: "In the practice of pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, we draw the senses inward to bring attention to the inner world instead of expending energy exclusively on the outer world. What we perceive in the outer world is just one part of our whole consciousness. Pratyahara provides a bridge from the outer practices of yama, niyama, asana and pranayama (from the gross) to the inner practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi (to the subtle). The energy freed from focusing outward, freed of the desire to act and to collect information can be wisely channeled instead to the realization of who we really are, which is pure consciousness." - Jivamukti.
So this is where i have been... getting lost in the winds of Portugal and what have I learnt? Well, I have come home and realised how powerful it is to wake up with the elements all around you and just be. Away from the distractions of a city and in to the stillness of nature, often in silence and alone. It enabled me to connect back to the subtle and experience the inward far greater and this was transformative. It helped to gain clarity on my actions, my tendencies to act and where the truth truly was, what it was and what was speaking to me, wholeheartedly.
But how do we do this when we live in a city - as ultimately we don't always have the opportunity to travel to find these realisations and if so we still have to return. Upon reflection, I realised most prominently that by becoming more aware of the subtle practices of stillness and drawing the senses inward, we create new insights in to what simply nourishes us and what does not. But we can not forever run away and seek to change the external and live in paradise to do so. As we take ourselves with us wherever we go, so we need to learn to make paradise exist within. What does your internal world look like, sound like, smell like, feel like...
So we need to learn to be devoted practitioners. To be disciplined in the art of becoming more connected. To have goals that are not always projected to our external. To have rhythm and flow that is not always existing outward. To create whatever it is for ourselves inside us and yet be ourselves in both projections outward and inward. There are many people that look a certain way on the outside and the social media phenomena allows us to shape this in whatever way we choose, but how many of us know what we truly look like, feel like, and so on within? Can you know that of another?
Try to witness your external habits and break them if they are not giving us anything positive. Maybe this involves taking a break from your phone now and again, social media, sweet treats, gossiping... whatever it may be.
This song has become my theme tune since returning back to Bristol. (If you see me with my headphones on, its likely to be playing this.) We come full circle often! We could relate this to our Karma (another very interesting topic i'll cover in a later blog post).
To understand why we act like we do, we need to observe the connection between sensation, mind and action. Then we have the chance to change something. Being aware of what drives us to action makes it easier to let it go and calms down our lives.
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses and is Patanjalis 5th limb of the 8 limb path in Yoga. Through these yoga practices we attempt to purify the body and the mind so we can free ourselves of the Kleshas (obstacles) and experience the bliss of self knowledge. These are phycotherapeautic tools where it begins to integrate and purify the body, the emotions and infuse them with spirit.
In pratyahara we are redirecting the senses inward toward their source. We all practice the outer practices of asana, pranayama and maybe some of you have experienced the kriyas (cleansing practices) but Pratyahara is described by many as the bridge between the outer and the inner practices. We can begin to practice meditation, Bhakti yoga (DEVOTION) and Nada Yoga (listening for the sound of God inside). These turn the senses inward.
I was discussing with a fellow Yoga teacher many aspects of Yoga just yesterday and we both acknowledged how sometimes Yoga isn't about moving on your mat, sometimes my yoga is this... tuning in to the senses and developing a new sensibility with which to perceive reality. We experience life through our 5 senses, we all know that, but by their physical nature these can be limiting. They are all like a filter, as if we saw light or heard sound in its full capacity for example it may be far too overwhelming. What the senses can do however is use up your energy in negative ways by stealing the life force from us. Watching TV, for example, or being on the computer I can fully feel currently (as I am feeling more susceptible to its effects, having been away from the screen) is drawing energy away from possible action as you stare at the screen, you feel though that it is giving you something. It is deceptive. After a while, you may begin to feel that the senses are not fulfilling you totally and ultimately you begin to seek the Truth. We become restless and we become seekers.
But the practices of Pratyahara teach us to journey from being fixated outward and to find inward revelation, drawing senses inward to the source that holds the truth for your Self.
"FLOWING TOWARDS THE CENTER"
We can take our vitality and devote its flow towards inner practices to cross the bridge that you have built!
The Jivamuktas recognise Satsang as a potent and helpful yoga practice in regard to pratyahara practices. To be surrounded by people who are interested in yoga and self-realization instead of sticking to a carefully crafted outer image, supports us to liberate ourselves from false identification. This applies to many beliefs and social habits we create. I see friends engaging and devoting to many other non-yoga belief systems and creating community around it, that massively supports them and their idea of Self. Ultimately, however, we need to turn away from distractions, media, others, all of which provoke emotions of all kinds to enable us to primarily calm the mind and learn to be with the Self. This allows ourselves to turn inward to really know our true identity and Self and not have it defined by other or anything else.
A technique you may try... Write down what distracted you during your Yoga asana or meditation. What made concentration difficult? By putting it into words you can realize what you are chewing on while you wanted to focus on something higher than your daily distractions. Then you start getting a sense of what is really important to you and what kind of external sensory input you would like to minimize.
So I invite you this month... to withdraw your senses, practice Meditation, devotion and turning to your God, whomever and whatever that may be for you. This isn't religious at all, this is love, this is selfless acts of kindness and about learning to become more sensitive to your needs, to your self and the world around you.
When we get on our mats this week we will make our practice about the inward flow, working with Drishti and concentration.
Cant wait to practice back with all you delicious Yogis this week!