Pratyahara is the fifth limb of the eight limbs of yoga, and one that is often overlooked. It is a handy tool that allows you to practice mind withdrawal, which, in turn, pulls you away from external distractions and allows you to focus on your inner thoughts. In Sanskrit, it means “withdrawal of the senses,” and it helps create a bridge between the first four limbs with the last three limbs, that of concentration, meditation, and the ultimate goal of Samadhi, the pinnacle state of balance and being at one.
Why Is It The Fifth Limb?
The eight limbs of yoga are as follows:
- Yama–your moral compass to the world
- Niyama: your attitude towards yourself and how you treat yourself
- Asana: yoga poses
- Pranayama: breathing technique
- Pratyahara: keeping the senses within
- Dharana: concentration
- Dhyana: meditation
- Samadhi: enlightenment
The three limbs that of Yama, Niyama, and Pranayama allow for the mind to be purified before you turn the mind inwards. Accomplishing the practice of the fifth limb can take years to develop as much of the yoga journey. When we learn to accomplish how to turn our sense inward, we develop peace that can then lead us down the rest of the eight limbs into concentration and meditation.
When To Practice?
The fourth limb that of Pranayama or yoga breathing is a good time to practice the technique of Pratyahara. During the practice of yoga breathing, we are to focus our attention on the breath and inward. We can also practice keeping the senses within the initial stages of what is called Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep). In Yoga Nidra, the practitioner withdraws all senses, except that of hearing where the yogi listens to the guided meditation.
Other Ways To Practice
Anything that you find distracting, in an unhealthy way, from unhealthy food, relationships, or habits, can all be avoided and are things from which we should distance ourselves. Healthy cleanses and focusing on foods that are good for us – not surrounding ourselves with toxic and negative people, and breaking unhealthy habits that distract us from propelling ourselves to greater things are all useful ways to turn our attention inward and avoid bad distractions.
Listen To Your Body
When you are performing an asana, it is easy to focus so hard on getting the pose right that we forget to focus on how the pose makes us feel inside. The next time you find yourself just “going through the motion” of your practice, take the time to slow down and really be present on the mat. Observe how each pose makes you feel inward, and don’t worry about how each one looks.
Moving through the eight limbs is a long process. Each one is connected to the others and is placed in such an order to help us better reach the final destination of the eightfold path. By learning how to practice Pratyahara, you will create the ability to draw yourself inward and become aware of your surroundings without being ruled by them.