Yoga by You: Withdrawing the senses

AP Photo/Richard Drew
AP Photo/Richard Drew

In this edition of “Yoga by You” from Yoga by Degrees, Colleen Taylor examines how to focus, disconnect and achieve a healthier lifestyle both mentally and physically. Read more:

“If you don’t go within, you go without.” – Darren Main

Are you mindful of your sensations? Your words? Your idle activities? Pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of yogic philosophy, which means the withdrawal or control of the senses. This is a stage of yoga practice just beyond the physical where internal yoga practice begins. Practicing pratyahara takes place when your individual consciousness is turned inward so you can master the flow of prana, or energy, in your body. Specifically, pratyahara is the withdrawing yourself away from anything unwholesome, excessive or distracting for the mind. 

Most people don’t have the ability to withdraw into seclusion in the mountains to meditate without distractions. It is a little easier to harmonize with prana when you can renounce the world to focus on controlling the senses. In the real world we have temptations of money, sex, fame, etc. If you can overcome the temptations here then you have really mastered your senses.

“If you control your mouth—what you put into it and what comes out of it—you’ve controlled much of your mind already,” Sri Dharma Mittra explains in his book. Every effort helps. If you can master your senses even a little bit, you can calm your mind, improve concentration and increase your energy. Think about what you put into your body. Do you nourish your body with what it needs? Or are you feeding your senses? Even if you are vegetarian and in control of some aspects of a regulated diet, there can still be issues with overeating, eating unhealthy choices, processed foods that make you feel lethargic.

Just like yoga practice, it starts physical and external (your diet) and the next stage is more internal. Are you mindful of what you say? Any form of communication can be included: texting, e-mailing, body language, small talk. How much time do you spend watching bad TV, listening to talk radio or playing video games? These temptations are satisfying for our senses but the satisfaction can wear off quickly and the cycle continues.  

One common technique to get a handle on the senses is to practice breath control, pranayama. When breathing mindfully, we automatically withdraw from the external and focus inward.  So if you can control the senses, your energy is focused on one single-pointed thing. Rather than feeding your body with unhealthy food, words, or thoughts, you can send out your energy to whatever is important to you. This mindful discipline towards an intention has many physical and psychological benefits. You will have more energy since it is not wasted on distractions, more contentment by being present in the moment, and more productivity because of the increased concentration and focus.

Try driving to work without the radio on. Try eating a meal in silence without any distractions — no phones, television, or activities. Try avoiding gossip, eavesdropping, and idle speech. At first your body or mind may react negatively, feel annoyed, or give up. The more you practice focusing on one single-pointed thing and releasing the power of the senses, you can diminish your desires and experience true peace and contentment. 

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