The fifth class in our eight limbs of yoga series focuses on the fifth limb, pratyahara. Pratyahara translates as control of this senses. This class will begin with a pratyahara practice where we will bring awareness to our five senses.
Rather than focus on withdrawal of the senses from a place of deprivation, we will focus on this practice being a gateway to greater joy and so our asana will center around the joyful postures of happy baby and breath of joy. We will finish with tortoise pose as a way to experience drawing our senses within to experience a deeper sense of our Self.
The practice of pratyahara is an education the the proper use of our senses. It requires and cultivates discipline, discrimination, memory and courage. It requires discipline to shift our attention for sense objects.
For example it takes discipline to shift our attention away from over indulging in a tasty meal if we know it is going to disturb our meditation or yoga practice later on. That is an example of using discipline to shift our attention away from the pleasure senses. It equally takes discipline to turn our attention away from the lawn mowers, weed-whackers and leaf blowers during our yoga and meditation practice and not allow the noise coming into our sense of hearing to disturb our practice time.
It also takes discrimination to assess the appropriate use of our senses. For example when coming to our yoga and meditation space it is appropriate to clear use our sense of sight and smell and clear and declutter our space so that it is clean and pleasant for our practice. Taking a moment to sweep and dust our space, sage and light a stick of incense is a proper use of discrimination of our sense perception prior to beginning our practice.
It is also important to question our motives when we engage in objects that catch our sense’s attention. For example are we eating cake at tea time because we are hungry and to nourish our bodies or because of a sugar addiction? Would a handful of nuts or a bowl of coconut yogurt be more health giving rather than simply sensory pleasing experience to your taste buds?
Reverend Jaganath Carrera says, drawing upon our memory to examine the benefits, and liabilities resulting from the use, abuse and overuse of the senses and the courage to temporarily give up indulging in a particular sense in order to serve the purpose of Self-realization is part of being a yogi. For example, a number of years ago I used to come home from teaching yoga late at night and watch tv as a way to unwind before bed and connect with my husband Tim. Upon reflection, I realized that this practice didn’t actually allow me to connect with my husband or help me unwind at all. The light from the television actually inhibited my ability to sleep and I wasn’t connecting with my husband in a real way by watching television with him. Sight and sound were being stimulated, at a time when my senses would have been better served by turning inward for the evening.
The example often given is that a yogi withdraws their senses in the same way that a tortoise pulls in its limbs. “Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, so when a man withdraws his senses from the sense objects, his wisdom becomes steady.” -Bhagavad Gita It is not that your temptations and cravings are suppressed, but rather that you redirect your attention to a more beneficial place. Sense mastery is not a practice of deprivation, rather a gateway to greater joy.
Withdrawing your senses might actually be understood better as drawing your senses closer. In fact feeling them, more mindfully, with more awareness. Rather than distracting yourself through your senses, turn inwards and engage your senses with loving kindness and intimacy rather than through lack.
Sri Swami Satchidananda says, “The happiness we can receive by mastery lasts longer than temporary joys. We should all become masters. That is true freedom and real victory. If you are free from your own mind and senses, nothing can bind you. then you are really free.”
Props Needed: Eye Pillow, Yoga Blanket
Yoga Postures/Asanas: Pratyahara Practice, Windshield Wiper Legs, Keyhole Stretch, Garland Pose/Full Squat to Standing Forward fold Malasana to Uttanasana, Spinal Warmups: Circling and Washing Machine, Meditation for Focus and Sweetness, Breath of Joy, Tree Pose/Vrksasana, Cow’s Face Twist/Parivritta Gomukhasana, Tortoise/Kurmasana, Happy Baby Pose/Ananda Balasana, Sanmukhi Mudra/Healthy Face Mudra, Savasana Using Eye Pillow