I am away from RI, celebrating a significant birthday. Full disclosure, it is hitting me harder than any birthday has before. I am spending some time reflecting on my life and how much I have to be grateful for that did not have earlier in life: my husband and two grown boys, wonderful friends, a career that has provided well for us as well as many hobbies AND my yoga community. Twenty years ago, I was taking my first yoga class. Now I have learned so much, still have so much learning ahead and have met so many wonderful people along the way – especially those of you who join me live or on Zoom as I share my practice. It is incredibly fulfilling and fills me with much joy.
The Fifth Limb of Yoga!
This week we explore the fifth limb of yoga, pratyahara, which means the withdrawal of the senses. The translation from Sanskrit evolves from “ahara” which means nourishment and “prati” which means withdraw. So, we are removing our senses from the things that stimulate.
Patanjali in the Sutras discusses this limb and says, “The restraint of the senses occurs when the mind is able to remain in its chosen direction and the senses disregard the different objects around them to faithfully follow the direction of the mind. Then the senses are mastered.” Yoga Sutras 2.54-2.55 as translated by T.K.V. Desikachar
As I was thinking about this and how I was going to explain it (during my training many of these concepts took a bit for the light bulb to go on), I thought of a recent experience. While I was in Utah visiting my friend Dorothy, I coaxed her into attending a yoga class with me at the Van Gogh exhibit. The practice was held in the large exhibit room and as class began the wondrous exhibit evolved all around us. When the practice was over, I realized I had barely seen any of it. I was so absorbed in my practice that I barely noticed my surroundings. While the glimpses I did take were beautiful, I was so absorbed in the practice that even these wondrous surroundings my senses were otherwise absorbed. I remember saying to her, “I have to admit I barely noticed any of that exhibit”….Side note: After the practice we were joined by her husband and daughter and attended the exhibit again and it was tremendous.
You may notice that Pratyahara happens for you when you are absorbed in a deep conversation, or a deep meditation. You finish what you are doing and look around, notice that it is raining, or that you smell delicious bread baking or hear your family laughing. You realize, wow, I must have been really focused, I did not notice anything….
Many believe that Pratyahara happens by itself, we cannot make it happen, we can only practice how it might happen.
See this article below for more on this topic.
Our Practice – Practicing Pratyahara On and Off the Mat
When we come to yoga class to practice, we start by letting go of the day, breathing, and centering. We are drawing attention inside and practicing this withdrawal of the senses.
When we practice savasana, we are also withdrawing our senses. We might fidget, listen to the sounds around us, but eventually all of us at some point experience those magical savasanas when we reach a beautiful meditative state. Do not fret if it does not happen all the time, even for the most experienced yogis it can be a real challenge. For me, it is the most challenging pose of my practice.
Practicing Pratyahara off the mat can mean a day (an hour?) of no screen time. If you are around people most of the day, go for a walk outdoors, get into nature if possible (no headphones, and go alone!). If you drive to work, perhaps do so with no radio.
Meditating – On Aligning the Mind and Body
“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar
Nuturing With Food – Vegan Split Pea Soup
I have been making this soup for many, many years. I adapted the recipe for the crock pot from one in The Moosewood Cookbook, an all time favorite go to cookbook. As we move into spring, I have been thinking of the first things to grow in the garden, peas, and it made me crave this soup, again!
See you on the mat!