स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः I
svaviṣaya-asaṁprayoge cittasya svarūpa-anukāraḥ iva-indriyāṇāṁ pratyāhāraḥ
When the senses (indriyāṇāṁ) delink and withdraw (asaṁprayoge) from sensory objects (svaviṣaya), it’s as if (iva) they turn inward and link with the mind’s (citta) essential nature.
PRACTICAL LIVING Up until now, we have seen that Patañjali suggests practicing Yoga in the following ways: (i) cultivate honesty and kindness in our relationships (yamas); (ii) balance growth with gratitude in our approach to life (niyamas); (iii) maintain a body that is both strong yet flexible (āsana); and (iv) practice conscious breathing that is long and smooth (prāṇāyāma).
Here we are encouraged to deepen our practice and become aware of the power of our senses. The senses are like 5 antennae that are ‘hungry’ and want to be ‘fed’ continuously. Every experience we have through our senses is stored in our memories. So the mind has this infinite storage of pleasant or unpleasant experiences that it either craves or avoids at all cost. When the senses are the masters of our lives, we become slaves to our external experiences. In other words, when the cookie tastes great, we think we are happy. But when the music is too loud, we are unhappy. We create a false belief that when the senses are satisfied, we are fulfilled, and when they experience discomfort, we are miserable.
The problem with relying on the senses entirely as our perception of life is that we completely ignore another dimension – our inner world. Many Yoga practices involve us letting go of the external world for a moment so that we can redirect our attention, our awareness, to the inside universe within us. Prāṇāyāma is one of those practices. But pratyāhāra, or redirection of the senses, is a practice that can be developed throughout our days. Most of us have thoughts and behaviors that strongly desire or strongly avoid external objects, people or circumstances. When we see our senses dominating our lives, we step back, notice the power of the senses, and question whether we want to engage or not with the object. It we choose to engage, we are doing so mindfully. And if we choose not to, we are consciously doing so as well. Life then becomes more proactive, less robotic and we feel more alive.
IN THE YOGA WORLD By turning the senses inward, we begin to recognize the light within surrounded by many shadows. Awareness is enhanced and our understanding of life expands. By turning inward, we detach from the grabbing objects of the external world and we find the Observer within – that part of us that can simply watch the movie of our lives, the ups and the downs. This process can be divided into two parts: (i) awareness of how ‘thirsty’ the senses are and how often we quench our thirst in the first smell, taste, sound, touch or sight we have, therefore being able to step back and watch; and (ii) consciously practice going inward using any technique that works for us. Prāṇāyāma is a very effective practice.
Once we tap into our inner world, we can use the senses to serve that light within – the soul. We are then able to live life like Krishna asks us to do in the Bhagavad Gita – making every action one of devotion. Initially redirecting the senses takes a lot of effort. With consistent practice, however, it becomes easier and more effortless. Hence, prātyāhara is both a practice and a result of the practice. Becoming aware of the power of the senses makes the sensory objects less powerful. We are then less interested in engaging in every shiny object and more interested in the subtlety of the majestic inner wisdom.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Oh Melissa! This woman has taught me so much in this past year. She personifies the Yoga path. She is a seeker, and that has brought her to Yoga – a path that she has opened up to and actively pursued for the past year. Her vision has turned inward and she sees – she sees the profound light within her. Her eyes see differently. She engages with life from a heart space. And what she transmits to those around her is a magical potion with the ingredients of laughter and deep meaning. Her Yoga classes are a concoction of soul-quenching, sensuality, laughter and celebration of life! Melissa, you are a magical being. And I am oh so very thankful that our souls have met. Love you woman!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will discuss the result of mastering the senses!