I celebrated my birthday last weekend and am incredibly grateful as I reflect on my life thus far. I do try each day to recognize that gratitude and make that act part of my daily practice.
I tend to be overly goal oriented; one of the reasons I am committed to my yoga practice is for the wisdom and discipline around trying to be present. Admittedly, this is a challenge for me. I have running lists going all the time and measure a good day by how many check marks are on it. I know, I know! Not particularly yogic.
This is a true story: when my husband and I were first married one day we were cleaning the house together. As you can imagine, I had a list of things that had to be done. We were both working away and then I came around the corner and I saw him sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. I said, “what are you doing?”, and he said, “taking a break and reading the paper”. This was an interesting crossroads for me, I would never take a break in the middle of a task. I would get joy from enjoying the clean house and drinking my coffee once it was done. My husband thinks nothing of doing a chore halfway and then taking a break (sometimes the break is a few minutes sometimes it could be a day or two). In the end, the task always gets done - this crystallizes the differences in our personalities and approach to life! I guess he doesn't need yoga like I do to live in the present. 🤣😂🤣
Remember, this is why yoga is called practice – we don’t win the yoga gold medal at the Olympics, we just practice it every day. Every day we wake up and we get another chance at giving ourselves the gift of the present. I love that word play.
Our Practice – The Fifth Limb-Pratyahara
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
When we achieve pratyahara in our yoga practice it can be transformational. I did a yoga practice once at the Van Gogh exhibit and realized after that I had not seen any of it as I was so absorbed. 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.
This article from The Yoga Sanctuary is a good over view of the concept:
I love this simple article about practicing pratyahara on and off the mat by Alo Moves
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.
We have talked before about walking meditation. I often walk and listen to the news which is good for exercise and being up to date but not for meditation or practicing pratyahara. If you are like me, perhaps spend the first half of your walk listening to the news or podcast, on the second half, walk simply focusing on noticing what your senses show you all around. You will likely be pleasantly surprised at all that you discover and how peaceful you are when you get back.
Meditating on Pratyahara
“To achieve that state of lasting happiness and absolute peace, we must first know how to calm the mind, to concentrate and go beyond the mind. By turning the mind’s concentration inward, upon the self, we can deepen that experience of perfect concentration.” – Sivananda
“Pratyahara, the movement of the mind toward silence, not toward things” – Donna Farhi
Nuturing With Food – Spring Salad with Lemon Dressing
Peas are one of the first vegetables that become available in spring; I love snap peas and green peas raw as a snack or mixed into salads or other dishes. I know I featured this recipe as recently as March, but spring always makes me think of it and I always make it for Easter. It is so delicious and features all the earliest spring vegetables including peas and radishes and baby greens.
See you on the mat!