Pratyahara: Withdrawing the Senses in Yoga Practice

Find out how you can benefit in your yoga practice and in life by practicing Pratyahara; the ability to withdraw the senses.

What Is Pratyahara?

Pratyahara refers to withdrawing your senses, but what does it actually mean to withdraw from the world? And how can this benefit us, when surely it is important to play a conscious and “awake” role in the world in which we live? Wouldn’t withdrawing our senses and existing in a separate realm do the opposite of ground us or make us feel at one with the environment we inhabit?

Well, Pratyahara is like meditating. During meditation we do not fall asleep, instead we clear our minds of external noise and thoughts that take us away from focusing on merely existing in the present time and space. It is a way of quieting the body and mind so that while we may still be aware of the activity happening around us, our bodies and minds do not want to react to it.

How Do You Practice Pratyahara in Yoga?

Downward Facing Dog

The best way to clear your mind during your yoga practice and focus on the sequence of poses you are doing, is to concentrate on your own breath. This is partly why breathing in yoga is so important. It is a way of connecting your body with your mind, and making you conscious of everything your body is doing. We experience a very intimate relationship with our own bodies when practicing yoga, and this can often lead to some very spiritual personal experiences and ephiphanies.

Another way of practicing your skill of withdrawing your senses is to focus on a yoga pose that is very familiar to you and in which you can allow your body to completely relax. Lying down on your mat, on your back, can be a good place to start as you will be able to focus on your breathing, and also feeling your entire body sink into the mat as each part of it begins to relax. Focusing on how it feels to relax each one of your muscles separately helps to clear your mind of wandering thoughts. Clearing your mind is all about consciously relaxing.

If you think you will fall asleep, choose a pose in which you cannot. For example, Downward Facing Dog is the perfect resting pose for practicing Pratyahara, as it prevents you from falling asleep, which is not Pratyahara. You can focus your attention on allowing your body to sink deeper into the pose as you breathe until you feel like you are part of the space your body inhabits; moulding into the air around you, and feeling it support you.

Why Practice Pratyahara?

Zoning out without losing complete awareness is a great way of pulling yourself out of the contaminating environment of other people’s thoughts, actions and behaviour; so that you can bring your energy inwards and later feel revitalized. The world we live in sucks energy out of us, and often it is difficult to differentiate between who and what we are as individuals, and what the society we live in dictates to us.

Withdrawing your senses allows you to return to the world with a fresh and objective perspective; which can only be a good thing for all of the other areas of your life. The more energy you can pull back inwards, the more energy you will then have to put into making the things that are important to you in your life work.

You can’t progress in your career or education, support your family and develop a happy and fulfilled relationship with your partner if all of your energy is being used up by what everyday life demands from you.

5 Step Beginners Guide to Practicing Pratyahara

woman eyes closed

A simple and practical way of getting used to practicing Pratyahara is to use this technique which focuses your attention on each of the five senses in succession.

  1. Sight – The most dominant sense you have is your sight, and so it makes sense to first focus on withdrawing your sight. When you close your eyes, do so gently, so that your eyelids are not pressing heavily against your eye. You may feel like your eyelids want to flicker a bit, and this is fine as long as your focus is directed towards not conscious “seeing” or “looking” through your eyes. Concentrate on relaxing all of the muscles in your face; relax your eyebrows and your forehead, and your mouth and cheeks.
  1. Taste – Next you are going to relax your tongue by letting it lay inside your mouth. Relax your jaw so that there is no tension between your teeth. Try not to hold your tongue back, let the tip nestle gently behind your lower teeth.
  1. Smell – refrain from actively using your nose to smell, don’t flare your nostrils; instead focus on relaxing the bridge of your nose, because seems seems to relax your sense of smell so that your nose is not working to distract you.
  1. Sound – By relaxing the inner ear you can stem your natural mental urge to respond to the sounds you hear. To do this, bring your attention to the upper rims of your cheekbones and feel them melt down towards the earlobe.
  1. Touch – Last but not least you will withdraw the largest organ of your body; your skin. In a way you want to aim towards feeling like your skin is separate from your existence. You can do this by gradually relaxing every muscle in your body until you can barely feel that your skin is attached to you at all. Your body will feel heavy and sink further into your mat away from you.

Explore Other Ways of Enjoying the Benefits of Pratyahara

Learning to withdraw your senses can be beneficial in other areas of your life too. For example when you need to clear your mind of external noise to discover how you truly feel about something, or what you are thinking. You can use it to help you feel refreshed, make important decisions, and feel closer to your partner.

How has practicing Pratyahara helped you in your everyday life? Share your thoughts and experiences, and inspire others to meditate in this way too.

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About the author

Zara M.

I love to write, draw, take photographs, dance tango, write in my Midori Traveler’s Notebook and ogle other people’s Filofaxes. Oh – and I like LOTS of sugar in my tea! I want to inspire you, and show you the world through my eyes.

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