We saw the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, i.e., Yamas-the principles, second limb of Ashtanga Yog, Niyamas- the rules, third limb Asanas-the postures and fourth limb Pranayama-breathing exercises in our articles, Lifestyle management through Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, part 1, 2 ,3 & 4.
In this article we will study the next step of the Ashtanga Yoga, “Pratyahara”.
With the four limbs-Yamas, Niyamas, Asana & Pranayama in place, Pratyahara is the fifth step in an aspirant’s journey towards salvation or ultimate peace. It takes a person one step ahead by focusing more on his control over his mind.
While defining Pratyahara, Sage Patanjali quotes,
स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः॥
Meaning, “Pratyahara or abstraction is the imitation by the senses of the mind by withdrawing themselves from their objects.”
Let us try to understand Pratyahara as a concept first.
Pratyahara is made from 2 words, “Prati” + “Ahara”.
Ahara is either food or anything that we consume from outside to fulfil the desires of our senses. Prati is going away or withdrawing.
So Pratyahara is literally translated as withdrawing senses from the clutches of our desires.
It’s like breaking the bridge between desires of senses and the objects which fulfil those desires.
Having said that, does it mean that Pratyahara implies not having desires or not fulfilling them? “No!”
To understand this better, let us see what is Ahara.
Ahara is the nourishment for self on 3 levels- body, mind & soul.
The 5 vital elements (Agni-Vayu-Akash-Prithvi-Jal) and the food we consume nourish our body.
The feelings of our basic sensory organs (eyes, ears, skin, nose etc) are the food for our mind.
The relationships in our life which we hold close to our heart are the food for soul.
Pratyahara is all about training your mind and senses to move from wrong desires to the right ones. It is more about withdrawing from the superficial desires so that the aspirant becomes more open towards what is right for the growth of mind, body & soul together. In more simpler terms its giving away from toxic/wrong food, habits, emotions, thoughts & relationships and move towards the right food, regime, habits, lifestyle, emotions, thoughts and people.
In modern times, I personally feel that if Pratyahara is perceived, learnt and applied in the right way, it will definitely help the person in his practical, professional and spiritual journey in the world.
All the wonderful people out there, lets follow the Pratyahara so that we are just in the “Right” shape of mind, body & soul for our further journey on this path.
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