By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) & Dr Manasa B.A.M.S
Pratyahara is 5th among the 8 branches of Ashtanga Yoga, enlisted by master Patanjali.
Read – Ashtanga Yoga – Eight Branches Of Yoga
Meaning and Dimensions of Pratyahara
Pratyahara – means self-control.
It can also be discussed with the below said meanings –
- Drawing back
It is a step to attain ultimate goal i.e. salvation.
Introversion of senses
In Pratyahara introversion of senses takes place. The senses detached from external objects turn inwards. Since they are not in contact with objects, the senses mimic the features of mind and do not respond to external stimuli.
Read – Pravritti – Attachment, Meaning, Causes, Effects of Attachment
By practice of Pratyahara, the sense organs are under the complete control of mind. Here, the control over the mind has been achieved. The person starts to look internally about ‘self’. This is the initial stage of thinking and giving importance about ‘self’ i.e.‘self-awareness’.
Read – Easy Rules For Practicing And Mastering Yoga
Etymology of Pratyahara
Prati = away, against
Ahara = anything taken into ourselves including the sensual objects / fetch / bring / take / food
The food which we consume is called Ahara. Speaking in terms of food or diet, prati+ahara means ‘rejecting the food’. When we translate food into ‘food for mind coming through the senses in the form of images and knowledge of wanted and unwanted objects’, prati ahara means rejecting the sensual perception.
Read – Improper Use Of Sense Organs: A Neglected Cause For Diseases
Uncontrolled Sense organs –
We regularly receive one or the other sensory knowledge, which acts as food for mind and thoughts. Even when certain information is unhealthy, though our intellect rejects it, we may be tempted to take those sensations since they give us temporary pleasure. These momentary pleasures keep us diverted from the main motives of life, including knowing self. This comes in the pathway of spiritual liberation since we will not be in the righteous path and would be slaves of senses.
Read – Relation Between Doshas, Sense Organs And Perception
Gaining control over the senses by keeping them detached from their objects and blocking all information is pratyahara. Thus, Pratyahara means – ‘weaning away’ from the ‘tempting sensory perceptions’. The overall result of this is, the senses turn inward and behave ‘mind like’. The sense organ will be under the total control of mind.
Read – Moksha – The Ultimate Spiritual Liberation
According to Ayurveda, the knowledge of any object is obtained by a synchronised linear relationship between
the sense objects, senses,
mind, intellect and soul, the soul being the observer of the knowledge and enjoys the fruits.
Read – Pratyaksha Pramana: Knowledge Perception Through Sense Organs
Asatmya Indriyartha Sannikarsha i.e. incompatible and erroneous connection between the sense organs and sense objects is said to be one of the important causes for many diseases. Such contacts which are feeble, excessive or perverted are responsible for many illnesses. Perverted contact between sense organs and their objects will put a person into a web of various temptations and addictions which will eventually make the person to commit sins. To keep away from the objective and subjective sensations, one need to keep his / her senses detached from their contact with these objects and subjects.
Read – Pratyaksha Bhadaka Bhava: Constraints For Knowledge Perception
Pratyahara enables Samyama
When Pratyahara is practised strictly and is actualized, the practitioner who has successfully disconnected his sense organs from the sense objects can engage self in the practice of Samyama.
Samyama means ‘holding together’ (binding). In Yoga, the combined simultaneous practice of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (union) i.e. the inner Yogas is called Samyama.
Samyama i.e. being able to practice the internal Yogas simultaneously is a tool to receive deeper knowledge of the qualities of an object. It is equivalent to ‘catch all’ process of psychological absorption in the object of meditation.
Read – Meditation By Watching Mind: Stages, Method, Benefits
According to master Patanjali, Pratyahara i.e. withdrawal is the preceding stage to practising and mastering Samyama. The person who masters Samyama also vanquishes Klesha i.e. difficulties and hardships. Yoga Sutras of master Patanjali enumerate various powers, successes and perfections one may gain through Samyama.
Fixing the consciousness on one point is called dharana. A steady, continuous flow of attention towards the same point is called Dhyana i.e. meditation. When the object of meditation engulfs the meditating yogi, appearing as the subject, self-awareness is lost. This is called as the state of Samadhi. All the three put together is called Samyama. Yoga Sutras tell that the light of awareness and insight comes from the mastery over Samyama.
Read – Do You Concentrate On Improving Concentration? 14 Easy Techniques
How is Samyama achieved?
Samyama is achieved through withdrawal i.e. Pratyahara. Here, at the stage of withdrawal, the consciousness of the practitioner is internalised. This takes the yoga practitioner to the next stages of Yoga namely concentration, meditation and mystical absorption which are the aims of all Yogic practices.
Read – 24 Stress Management Tips: Pranayama, Meditation, Lifestyle Changes
When the practitioner, as a result of internalization of consciousness, detachment from the exterior world due to the breakage of the sense-sense object link and withdrawal of senses gets indulged in the last three stages of Ashtanga Yoga i.e. concentration, meditation and absorption simultaneously and also performs them all together, he has achieved Samyama.
Thus, the withdrawal i.e. pratyahara helps in obtaining the internal Yogas which will ultimately take him in the pathway of attaining spiritual liberation.
Read – Types Of Pranayama – Effect on Health – Through An Ayurveda View-Point
Pratyahara – Bridge between the external and internal focus of Ashtanga Yoga
Ashtanga Yoga is divided into
Bahiranga Yoga i.e. external aspects of Yoga and
Antaranga Yoga i.e. internal Yoga.
The external yoga comprises of Yama, niyama, asana and pranayama.
The internal yoga comprises of the last three limbs of yoga i.e. dharana, dhyana and Samadhi.
Pratyahara is the fifth limb of eight limbs of yoga and forms the bridge between the external yoga and internal yoga i.e. first four limbs and last three limbs, that enables easy and effortless conduit of concentration, meditation and union.
Read – Yama – Meaning, Classification, Benefits
Before the sense organs turn inward in Pratyahara, the mind should be purified. This is achieved by practising and mastering over the limbs constituting outer focus i.e. yama, niyama, asana and pranayama.
When pratyahara occurs, the mind turns inward. This enables the practitioner to obtain the inner focus and proceed for dhyana and Samadhi. This also helps one to know and experience the true inner self. Thus, the pratyahara becomes the bridge between the limbs of the external and internal focus comprising the Ashtanga Yoga.
Read – Niyama – Types, Meaning, Classification, Benefits
Once pratyahar is established, it allows the mind to become peaceful. This becomes the basis and foundation for concentration and meditation. Once the practitioner perfects withdrawal, he shall never be distracted from the materialistic world and he need not practice withdrawal again and again, since he has mastered the art of doing it and is enjoying the same to the core. He or she may turn the senses inwards and detach from the exterior at will.
Read – How To Do Pranayama – A Simple Pranayama Technique
Types of Pratyahara
Indriya Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Senses
This enables the mind to indulge in concentration i.e. dharana, the next sequential step in ashtanga yoga. Withdrawal of senses avoids sensory overload, which generally causes hindrance in the pathway of concentration and hence enables the mind to concentrate and get indulged in dharana.
Read – Pranayama Technique – What Should You Think While You Do Pranayama?
Prana Pratyahara – Withdrawal of Prana
Prana is the entity which controls the senses and perception. Therefore, in order to control the senses, it is mandatory to gain mastery over the flow of prana. Prana is the valuable vital energy of the body. In order to stop it from getting scattered, one needs to seek control over its flow and bring it into a state of harmony and balance. This is done through various practices which includes bringing the entire focus to a single point in the body.
Read – Prana, Tejas and Ojas – Subtle Forms of Tridoshas
Karma Pratyahara – Control over right action
Indriya and Prana pratyaharas lead to Karma Pratyahara i.e. control of action. Once the senses and the vital force are withdrawn and controlled, the action done by the yogi will be controlled. This entails control over the motor organs and right action and Karma Yoga. Karma Yoga is surrendering of every action to the divine and performing it as an act of service.
Read – Mind – Qualities And Functions As Per Ayurveda
Mano Pratyahara – Withdrawal of mind
The control of actions and surrendering those actions to the divinity will eventually lead to the withdrawal of mind or Mano Pratyahara. The mind withdrawal is practised by consciously withdrawing attention from anything that is unwholesome and by distracting the mind such as by withdrawing the attention of mind from its contact with the mind and directing it inwards.
Read – Health Benefits Of Yoga: Mind And Body
Practices in Pratyahara
To get into Pratyahara, one should practice and master Pranayama. In Pranayama we withdraw from the external and bring our focus inwards towards our breath as if controlling our breath. Gradually the connection between the external senses and all stimuli are broken. Therefore Pranayama, which is the preceding limb of Pratyahara in the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, forms the mandatory practice and an important perquisite for the later.
Another method which aids in the development of Pratyahara is focusing and concentrating on the Ajna Chakra (third eye) i.e. a point between the eyebrows.
Read – Chakra – Kundalini: Introduction, Meaning, Types, Location, Ayurveda View
One more method to induce Pratyahara is to reduce physical stimuli. Later one should concentrate on one sense (as hearing). As there are no other sensory inputs, the mind would be forced to turn inwards when it gets tired of hearing. In advanced stages, the currents pulsating through the nerves and involuntary muscles are turned off by the practitioner.
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