The 8 limbs – part I
Until pratyahara we are in what is called the bahiranga sadhana… gross definition of sadhana is the practice that we are doing, bahiranga means external… all the steps we took until this point are related to the external reality, yamas and niyamas are about we interact with the world at a behavioural level, asanas and pranayama are affecting our movements and breathing and will modify the physical interaction with the world.
All together the first 4 limbs will improve many aspects of our life at a physically external level… and this improvement will definitely start reflecting on our mind, it will start relaxing and coming a little more under our conscious control… or, at least, it will show us that it can be tamed!!!
Pratyahara is the crucial passageway, from the external work you’ll move to working inside yourself, the step here is about withdrawing your senses inside!
What does this mean?
Imagine to be willing to sleep in a room with a big analogic clock loudly ticking, imagine that you can’t sleep because of the sound of the clock really banging in your mind every second!
So there is you, there is an external distraction (the ticking sound), there is your will (to sleep), there is a sensory organ (the ear that is acquiring the external sound), there is a sense (the hear), there is your mind (that doesn’t agree with your will to sleep and keeps listening to the clock), there is your reaction (it’s 3 in the night, 6.30 wake up for some important job reason, you still couldn’t sleep one single second but keep hearing every single second… any feelings???)
Imagine another situation, more entertaining… you are at an electronic music festival, the camping area is not far from the dancefloor, it’s big and silent at the end near the entrance of the festival but your tent it’s at the extreme side of it, right behind the speakers!!! So you partied all night and now you want to rest a bit, maybe before the sun comes seriously up and your tent will become a 55 degrees oven! The music is still banging and you can’t relax, moreover you start thinking to the job interview you had last week where you arrived without sleeping because of your new noisy ticking alarm clock… of course it’s the same clock of the previous example and of course it’s a gift from boyfriend/girlfriend/parent/anything that didn’t permit you to simply move it away or take out the batteries and of course now you can’t go to the dj and kindly ask him to switch off or at least lower the volume…
Ok, now imagine to be studying or working or anything else that requires your concentration
.. and many distractions keep coming, from tv or radio or phone calls or people around…
Reading a book at the beach and relax??? Good luck my friend!!!
A samurai trying to meditate?
Got the concept??! I don’t want to make this post become only about distractions… i’d just like to point that outside your body there are myriads of possible distractions ready to stick to your senses and travel straight to your mind…
As we said pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from the outside world, this is the process of stopping external distractions to indiscriminately go straight to your mind without any control!
Pratyahara is a fundamental step in the yogic ladder because the next part of the work will be in and with your mind… here you really don’t need to have any more obstacles coming from outside.
As you can imagine pratyahara is a fundamental skill to have in your daily life as well, the ability not to be distracted by the first passing bird will make you more efficient, more productive, more happy in whatever you’re doing simply because you’re doing it instead of doing for 3 seconds then scatter your mind 3 minute, then back for 3 seconds more and scatter again and so on…
Anyway to be more precise pratyahara isn’t the ability not to be distracted but, again, it’s the skill of bringing your attention from the outside to the inside… and this of course will let fall the outside stimuli and will favour your concentration… guess what??! Concentration is what the next yogic step is about!!
One very famous exercise that will train your pratyahara is trataka, i will give a very basic description, just to start!
Take a white sheet, draw a dot in the middle, stick it to the wall, eye level while sitting at (around) one arm distance… and now just look at the dot, gaze at the dot, stare at the dot… overtime you’ll achieve the ability to fix your eyes on the dot without being so concentrated that you don’t breath anymore, your mind fixed on something but at the same time relaxed, aware, ready! Of course you’ll want to explore moments of deep concentration, a kind of going inside the dot… but the main focus –at this stage– should be in developing an “organic” ability to stick your mind where you want without flying around without control at the first bird passing ahah i like this example!
You can substitute the dot on sheet with the flame of a candle or any uplifting image!
Your eyes should be open and fixed and not blinking… for as long as you comfortably can… at a point some tears will be produced and that’s good, you can relax your eyes now!
If you notice that the image you’re looking at remains when you close your eyes… don’t worry, you’re progressing, there are more stages of this exercise even if for now i’m giving only a basic description!
So to conclude… pratyahara is the ability to switch your attention from the outside to the inside world, ready for the next step!