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Pratyahara – Retreat of Senses

Pratyahara – Retreat of Senses


Our sense organs are stimulated by information overload. There is a continuous attack of sounds, visuals, and touch stimulations upon our senses. We are attracted to all these external sources and are unable to control our mind and senses.

As a result, our senses start controlling our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, beliefs, and actions. Pratyahara is a sensory fast that puts a stop to this information overload and tunes us to an inner world of absolute bliss and self-exploration.

It helps to control and distract your sensory inputs in a way you want. This spiritual practice aims to detach you from the external world. You can delve deep into the affairs of the subconscious mind. You can pay attention to those aspects of the ‘self’ that remained unexplored and dormant for many years.

Pratyahara Definition

Pratyahara is a state of mind where your awareness is internally directed to a subtle domain of self-understanding. You realize your true nature and move towards a higher self.

The term Pratyahara comes from two Sanskrit words ‘Prati’ and ‘ahara’. Prati means weaning or moving away from something. Ahara signifies food. It is the sensory inputs that you continuously take inside you. Three types of food explain Pratyahara in a detailed manner.

  • Food that we eat to give energy to our body.
  • Sensory impressions that you experience through the 5 senses.
  • Mental associations are formed due to the perception of sensory inputs.

Together, Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses from external engagements. Your sensory realm is internally diverted to become a quiet and blissful state of absolute silence. Pratyahara is the fifth limb in yoga practice. 

It was first described by Sage Patanjali in his famous book “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”. The conscious diversion of energy from your sense organs helps you to be present in your moments. You can control your senses with calm thoughts and balanced emotions. Self-mastery of external events is needed for meditation.

The flow of information from the outside world is sensed and perceived in such a way that it exhausts your thoughts and feelings. You tend to lose mental immunity and physical vitality. Pratyahara is a revival process to get back the lost energy. It is a preparatory stage for mindfulness.

A Brief Background of Sensory Withdrawal (Ashtanga Yoga)

Ashtanga yoga is an eight-limbed yoga practice, described by Sage Patanjali. It has two parts. One is known as the external limb and the other is the internal limb. 

This limb system is a complete guide to yoga practice. The first four limbs are external limbs. They are Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama.

  1. Yama – Keep away from or avoid the sensory inputs.
  2. Niyama – Observing what is happening within you.
  3. Asana – Body postures in yoga.
  4. Pranayama – Breathing exercises.

The internal limbs are as follows

  1. Pratyahara – Withdrawing and controlling sensory inputs.
  2. Dharana – Attentiveness and focus.
  3. Dhyana – Meditation
  4. Samadhi – Meeting the divine powers and moving towards spiritual ascension.

Thus, Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga. It is drawing your conscious awareness toward an inward domain of wisdom and rightful living. It not only means closing your eyes and ears from the outside world. Rather, it refers to being in a state of no reaction and no response to the various events happening around you.

You close your mind processes to the sensory inputs that come to you continuously. Pratyahara empowers you to stop making compulsive reactions and hasty decisions. You are no longer controlled by the external world.

Pratyahara is the link between the outside limbs (the first four) dand the internal limbs (the last three). This practice helps you to easily transit your perceptions from the external or bodily experiences to an internal realm of self-consciousness.

Pratyahara – Retreat of Senses
Pratyahara – Retreat of Senses

10 Key Elements in Pratyahara Yoga

Pratyahara is a tool to unplug and unwind. You recharge yourself and move towards purposeful living. There are 10 key elements in the practice of Pratyahara.

  1. Your senses are withdrawn or taken away from their respective object source.
  2. This disconnection of senses from the outside world remains in a natural state of calmness for some time.
  3. The mind no longer is controlled by the sensory inputs. You allow things to happen naturally around you, without responding or reacting to it.
  4. Your senses resemble the state of the mind. It means you have absorbed the external inputs into an internal domain of awareness and understanding.
  5. You are in a state of Vairagya. It means disinterest; your mind is no longer attracted to sensory functions.
  6. Though senses receive outside information, the mind is unwilling to perceive and comprehend it.
  7. The senses are unable to disturb the mind and spirits; thus they start following an internal world of absolute harmony and peace. 
  8. You experience the objects, according to your will power without getting attracted to the object.
  9. Pleasure and pain associated with the experience no longer bother you. You have learned to accept things as they are.
  10. There is the complete removal of sensory inputs and your mind is slowly moving towards the next stages of internal consciousness. 

4 Types of Pratyahara

When you shut off sensory inputs, you are in a state of absolute silence. This asana practice can delve deep into an inner world of life force that is subtle and divine. It increases your potential to evolve as a spiritual being. There are four forms or types of Pratyahara. They are as follows

  1. Indriya Pratyahara – Control of your sense organs.
  2. Prana Pratyahara – To keep a check on life force or ‘Prana’, which is the source of your spiritual energy.
  3. Karma Pratyahara – control of actions and deeds.
  4. Mano Pratyahara – withdrawal and control the wandering mind.

Now, let’s look into these in detail

1. Indriya Pratyahara

It is the most essential form of Pratyahara. Here, your senses are controlled and pave the way for an inward journey. Our daily life feeds us with many harmful and unnecessary sensory inputs.

The bright lights and scenes, loud noises, and alluring sensations overload your senses. As senses are indulged, it tells you what to do and how to react to various situations.

It empowers the way you think, feel, and act. When your senses take charge of your will, you become illogical. If you do not discipline them, they become dominant and disturb you with their endless demands, often beyond control.

They create mind poisons that cloud and color your perceptions. You develop Kleshas and lead a life of pain and suffering. Becoming accustomed to all the ongoing sensory activity puts you in a dangerous cycle of negativity and poor self-awareness. 

Indriya Pratyahara helps to control these situations. It improves your will power and makes you feel self-satisfied. This process reduces dependency on external things and teaches you to seek happiness within you. The Indriya withdrawal teaches control of the various sense organs. It motivates you to see your inner beauty and goodness.

2. Prana Pratyahara

‘Prana’ means life. It is the source of positive energy that is pure and divine. Our senses are guided by this life force. After the senses are controlled, you need to control the energy of the ‘Prana’. If Prana is not strong, you will not be able to withdraw sensory impressions.

The fourth limb of Ashtanga yoga is called pranayama that is used to control prana. Pranayama is all about breathing exercises and control of breath. 

Prana is gathered in pranayama and it is withdrawn in Pratyahara. Withdrawal of prana starts from the toes and ends at the top of the head or the third eye at the center of the forehead.

Prana Pratyahara is bringing life force from different body parts to a central location of utmost concentration and focus.

3. Karma Pratyahara

Human desires and wants are endless. A happy and peaceful mind can only be nurtured if you do not possess these desires. Our hands (touch) and tongue (taste) are the sensory channels that are based on need fulfillment and gratification. So, you need to withdraw from such desires to attain a state of meditation.

When your mind is focused on temptations and desires, it will drive you towards unhealthy actions. Karma Pratyahara teaches you to avoid doing things that are based on greed, lust, desires, and wish fulfillment.

When your motive is to help and serve others rather than to obtain things, you practice karma Pratyahara. You learn to give up your material needs. Undoing bad actions and doing right karma helps you to become a spiritual being. Asana is used for controlling hands and feet for an extended period.

4. Mano Pratyahara

Yoga science says that the human mind is the source of all evils that humanity goes through. It controls your sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, and actions. The mind gives attention to the sensory stimulus and perceives it in a way it likes.

Thus, Mano Pratyahara is a process of withdrawing or detaching it from various sensory inputs. The mind starts avoiding its source object. You can practice this process by consciously avoiding wrong impressions. It is the most difficult Pratyahara practice that takes the most time to master it effectively.

Importance of Pratyahara 

Pratyahara is one of the vital tools in successful yoga practice. It manages the senses and mind in such a way that you can feel your inner silence.

  • The path of righteous and honest living comes from Pratyahara.
  • Self-love, acceptance, and removal of worldly desires can help you to ascend spiritually.
  • Your ability to calm the mind and control the senses can keep the doshas in a balanced state.
  • It is an effective way to control the behavior of mentally ill patients. It corrects wrong sensory impressions and false perceptions.
  • As Pratyahara is an inward process, it is a vision of your conscious self. The ego takes a backseat and a clear view of life emerges.
  • It tames your unruly and wandering mind.
  • You can go beyond your desires, fears and illusions (Mayas) and attain mastery of a divine self dwelling within.

Ways to Practice Pratyahara in Your Daily Living

Practicing Pratyahara in your daily lives can be of great help. You learn to choose an internal dimension that is subtle and turns down the external distractions. Few simple steps can be helpful.

  • Switch off your social media for 30 minutes to an hour a day. This is a form of sensory deprivation.
  • Give yourself enough room for peace and happiness. You can just go and lay down in your bed to experience inner silence.
  • Focus on positive thoughts and the senses will follow you.
  • Stop reacting to people and situations around you. Let them occur in a natural way, and make sure you remain aloof to them.
  • Practice the pause and have patience in your life. Do not rush behind things. Slowing down and observing your internal aura is the best way to practice Pratyahara.
  • Do meditation and Kriya yoga to become mindful. It boosts physical vitality and increases mind power
  • You can practice restorative yoga every day that teaches sustained stillness by emphasizing on physical comfort.
  • Delaying your reaction time towards people and situations. Do not be judgmental and respond to all the sensory over stimulations.
  • Keep away from negative people as they give negative sense impressions, which is a barrier to Pratyahara.
  • Practice being silent. Speech is a source of conflict and negative energy. Train your mind not to follow your words.

The below link explains the concept of Pratyahara in a simple way.

Techniques of Pratyahara Yoga

It is a powerful way to develop self-control. You can also improve your will power. Pratyahara is a valuable aid. It acts as a psychic shield that protects you from unwanted stimuli. The techniques of Pratyahara are

  1. Pranayama – Deep and slow breathing that relaxes and calms the nerves.
  2. Karma Pratyahara – Selfless service to humanity. It also means dedicating oneself to the divine by detaching from worldly desires.
  3. Meditate in nature –Embrace the blue sky, ripples formed in river water, birds chirping only by seeing it, but not reacting and evaluating it.
  4. Practice Yoga Nidra – It means psychic sleep. A stage between sleep and wakefulness. You begin to experience sensory withdrawal by following this yoga method.
  5. Savasana (Corpse pose) – A familiar yoga posture where you lay supine on the floor with eyes closed. You are about to relax and notice your breathing patterns. It involves relaxing the body muscles and slowly letting go of the entire body.
  6. Yoni Mudra – Practice doing Yoni Mudra daily. Here, you close your eyes, ears, and nose to experience sensory withdrawal.

Pratyahara Benefits

Pratyahara techniques are all about training the mind to tame the senses. There are many benefits of this practice.

  1. Learning Pratyahara is a way to unwind your mind to external stimuli.
  2. It teaches you to delay your reaction time to events and situations that you come across.
  3. If you are less reactive, it means you are in better control of yourself.
  4. This yoga technique can improve your happiness quotient.
  5. It improves physical and mental immunity.
  6. You can reduce your negative emotional reactions in a better way.
  7. Brings in inner joy and peace.
  8. It focuses the mind in creative and productive activities.
  9. Pratyahara yoga practice helps to reduce distraction and inattentiveness.
  10. It reduces sensory overload and mental restlessness.
  11. Your senses no longer dictate your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
  12. Pratyahara trains your mind to turn off all the sensory impressions and thought waves.
  13. It helps you to meditate in absolute peace and harmony.

“Pratyahara…the movement of the mind toward silence rather than toward things”

Donna Farhi

Closing Thoughts

At times, it comes as a respite to experience a life without distractions. There is no anxiety, no reactions to people, and situations. Negative emotions take a back seat and you can enjoy utmost silence and peace.

This is what Pratyahara is all about. It’s a blessing in disguise in this fast-paced stimulus-driven world.