Prati meaning "withdrawal" Ahara meaning "food" Pratyahara altogether is generally translated to mean "withdrawal of the senses," not just our sense of taste as the Sanskrit breakdown might suggest! This is, in my opinion, one of the trickier limbs to understand and integrate. Especially when I was trying to teach this concept to children. However, in my time working for a kids after school and summer school yoga program I came up with a super fun way to teach them about it! First, we would begin by drawing awareness to each of our senses. We did a mindfulness meditation where each child got a piece of fruit and then we explored it with each of the five senses. We felt it in our hands. We looked really closely at the textures, the colors. We smelled it. We listened to it as we ran our fingers across the surface of the fruit. Finally, we ate it really slowly to, again, observe all five senses as we enjoyed our treat! This outward exploration is incredibly important and so beautiful. However, Pratyahara takes us even deeper.
I think we've all been in meditation or taking a quiet moment to ourselves only to notice how loud the world is. Not just the sound of everything - tv, cars, lawnmowers - but also our incredibly overstimulating phones and computer screens. As we move through life, it's the thousands of surfaces we touch every single day. It's the smells pumped through shopping centers, hair and nail salons, our cleaning products. It's all the wonderfully sour, sweet or salty foods we're addicted to eating. The world is LOUD. It can be challenging to actually quiet the external world in order to turn further inward. So, when you move from the external to the internal, it's important to accept your sensory experiences for what they are with grace and gratitude. This is all a practice and life lays it out perfectly for us! When we start to look inward, it can be really loud and that is okay. It's important that once you start to turn inward, you stay in the place of the observer. What does that mean? When you take a moment to notice the breath, just watch it. Do your best not to think to yourself, "it's too shallow," or "I should slow it down more." This is not the aim of Pratyahara. Pratyahara invites us to watch the inner experience without becoming overly attached, categorizing or judging whatever is there. Allowing what is to be what is.
In the book Living the Sutras, they give a beautiful reflection. They encourage the reader to sit in meditation not in a peaceful, quiet place, but somewhere that is a little loud, bright and active. Then, to try to rest the senses. Take time to notice what you can and cannot help but become fixated on. I'm looking forward to hearing what your experience with Pratyahara for the next two weeks will be like. I am sending you all my love and remember: it's a practice, not a perfect. Kiara Flowers
REFERENCES: Living the Sutras by Kelly DiNardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Edwin Bryant The Yogi Assignment by Kino MacGregor The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi Yoga Toolbox - Joseph and Lilian LePage