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Pratyahara The Forgotten Limb
of Yoga? (Audio)
September 7, 2009
New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Q: It seems to me that attachment to sense perceptions is at the heart of
our ignorance and suffering. That might explain why "pratyahara" is
prominently listed as one of the eight limbs of yoga. Yet, there seems to be
very little in the practices of yoga that is directly focused in this area.
It leads me to wonder if pratyahara is the forgotten limb of yoga. Your
thoughts on this?
A: Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, is
usually translated to mean "withdrawal of attachment to sensory
perceptions." There are two ways of looking at this.
First is as a gradual evolution of attention toward the finer realms of
experience where sensory perceptions become more ecstatic and naturally
imbued with pure bliss consciousness. In this case, the process of
pratyahara is a natural byproduct of the emergence of abiding inner silence
and ecstatic conductivity.
A second way of looking at pratyahara is as an aspect of self-inquiry,
which is for loosening the grip of identified awareness on all objects of
perception, including thoughts, feelings, and sensory experiences
registering in consciousness. This second view of pratyahara is more common.
Because the psychology of
it is seemingly more direct, the mind latches on.
Unfortunately, the psychology of pratyahara, without the cultivation of
abiding inner silence (the witness) beforehand, is like the psychology of
premature self-inquiry what we have called "non-relational" (not in
stillness) in previous lessons, and prone to building mental castles in the
All the limbs of
yoga are connected, and the sequence in which we approach them can make a
big difference in how the connections occur, and how effective each practice
may be in its own turn. Knowing this and gaining direct experience with it
in self-directed practice can bring pratyahara into much clearer focus, not
as a "forgotten limb," but as the meeting place of inner silence and
ecstatic conductivity, with further movement forward as these two pillars of
enlightenment become merged in our daily life.
In the AYP approach to pratyahara, we begin with how we define it. We
define it first as
an "introversion of sensory perception" See Lesson 149.
Taking a gradual approach to transforming sensory perception and our
relationship to it, rather that attempting to disconnect (withdraw) from it
immediately, is a far more practical approach to pratyahara. With deep
meditation and spinal breathing pranayama, we begin that refinement of
sensory perception early on. As we proceed later on into samyama, mudras,
bandhas and other methods for promoting the rise of inner silence and
ecstatic conductivity, we find that our sensory perception refines
accordingly. As we become the immovable witness, while at the same time
coming to know sensory experiences as ecstatic (kundalini aspect), then we
find ourselves more naturally inclined to engage in "relational" (in
stillness) self-inquiry. That is where the "withdrawal of attachment to
sensory perceptions" comes in and
gain real experiential traction, beyond the imaginings of the mind. In a
practical approach like this, pratyahara has two stages:
- The refinement (introversion) of sensory perceptions through
the neurobiological processes of yoga.
- The transcendence of sensory perceptions (withdrawal of attachment) through
As we have been discussing in previous lessons, effective
self-inquiry, and pratyahara by association, are dependent on the
cultivation of abiding inner silence and ecstatic conductivity in our core
sitting practices, and are closely intertwined with our bhakti and
cultivated habit of samyama (ability to surrender intentions
and inquiries in stillness). So pratyahara is a meeting place for all of
these aspects of our unfoldment.
It is in stillness that we are able to move beyond all attachments, even
as we naturally integrate stillness back into our everyday activity in an
ongoing outpouring of divine love. It is life lived as stillness in action,
which is the fulfillment of all paths of spiritual practice. An effective self-directed integration
of the key elements of practice makes
all the difference.
The guru is in you.
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Note: In core samyama practice, the sutra "Inner Sensuality," is used
for promoting the cultivation of pratyahara.
Self-directed research on the refinement of sensory perception can be undertaken
using Patanjalis Samyama Sutras
in the Appendix of the
AYP Samyama book, where sutras are provided for refining the
individual senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. Also see