Withdrawing The Senses For Clarity and Focus

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Withdrawing The Senses For Clarity and Focus

Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.54

SVA VIṢHAYᾹSAṀPRAYOGE CITTASYA VARŪPANUKᾹRA IVENDRIYᾹṆᾹṀ PRATYᾹHᾹRAḤ

Meaning
When the senses cease to engage with objects they turn back to where they arose from.

Translation
sva = their own
vishaya = objects, region, spheres, realms, fields
asamprayoge = not coming into contact with, non-conjunction, cessation of engagement
chittasya = of the mind field
svarupe = own form, own nature (sva = own; rupe = form, nature)
anukarah = imitate, resemble, follow, be engaged with
iva = like, as though, as it were
indriyanam = mental organs of actions and senses (indriyas)
pratyaharah = withdrawal of the indriyas (the senses), bringing inward

The first 4 Limbs of Yoga are cleaning house, laying the foundation for health and stability in your life, balancing physical health and mental health. Then the 5th limb, Pratyahara, is the juncture where we go from distraction to direction. It’s a turning point, an intersection of 2 planes of existence.

This means allowing thoughts to flow without interruption, while the senses are simply not diverted into those thoughts.

Ways to practice
*Practice non-judgement and staying calm when things happen
* Weaken habit patterns which are not useful to your growth
*Practice patience with others, yourself and during yoga practice
*Meditate with the continual practice of letting go of thoughts and let them flow continuously

One analogy we can relate to in daily life is the first day or two of vacation. We’ve already done the work. We’ve cleared the time, made the arrangements, paid our bills, found someone to look after the house and pets and survived the travel ordeal. We are finally at our destination. Or are we? Often the first day or so of a vacation is spent gradually letting go of life at home and embracing the new world of vacation. It takes a little bit to let go of all the details and distractions of life back home. But gradually the focus shifts and we begin to relax into the moment. This is the process of pratyahara but instead of turning our attention to a vacation we turn our attention inward, toward the inner Light of supreme Consciousness.

Even coming to yoga class, we enter in a distracted state from traffic, work and family etc. We begin by taking our seat and settling down. Then we center ourselves and invoke a new dimension of inward focus into our being. This ability happens because you become the archer. Pulling back to the source when awareness goes to the object. Self realization lines up with what the senses grasp onto in the world. There is nothing wrong with the senses in life, it’s our attachment to the senses that creates the problems. Stay in the Flow. Let thought arise naturally and and let them settle back from where they arose from.

This sutra is on the 5th Limb of Yoga, Pratyahara, drawing inward. Close your eyes and go inward. Settle into your breath and let the outward flowing mind settle. The mind is only a problem when you interrupt it. It’s actually a flow. The only thing to do is let go of attachment to the outgoing senses. Let your breath be a continuous flow even between the inhale and the exhale. Anytime you go inward and meditate it’s like going on vacation. It takes some time to settle. Going on a vacation takes a few days to settle. The same way, when you meditate or even turn inward theres a flurry of actions in your system that takes time to settle before you withdraw into your true nature. You withdraw, you change gears, you go from one level to another level.

Pratyahara, withdrawing the senses, is something we should do as a daily practice for heath and well being. Of course it’s always nice to go on a retreat for a full day or week or month but even a few minutes of withdrawal makes a difference to all the systems of the mind, body and spirit. When you come back you’re not quite as attached. peace gets a little more exciting than outer action. When you’re in peace, you are in pratyahara.

The first 4 limbs of yoga are to build stability in the physical and mental bodies. Then Pratyahara can happen. What goes on in your mind is stimulation of the outer world. When you go on vacation, you plan the time, pack, leave and get to your destination. It takes a few days to settle if you even do settle. Lots of times people go on vacation and there is no settling, just more outer, outer outer business and they come back exhausted.

We had the perfect environment for pratyahara in our beautiful site in the mountains next to a gorgeous stream. We did yoga and meditated everyday and hiked and read and ate really well as usual. We slept under the stars and the moon and the ancient trees on the earth and fell in tune with the rhythm of life.

Coming back that withdrawal is still there in the form of detachment and not getting drawn outward by the senses. We can get it anywhere with practice. You keep going to that space and eventually don’t leave. It’s the perfect sutra back from vacation.

Going inward is so sweet. We should do it everyday, otherwise we can get consumed by the outer world. Then we live in the past which is depression or we live in the future which is anxiety. In yoga we practice the frequency of the present, confident with our own body, with our own self. Independent of outer circumstances. In Yoga we practice not pushing too hard but yet keeping and edge so more life force and peace can flow through us in the present. We’re making our bodies vehicles of light.

The senses are not the problem. It’s how we react to the senses that are the problem. If you don’t react to them, you can go to a very withdrawn space. You learn to feel a very refined vibration. That vibration may sound boring or dull, but it is scintillating and electric and blissful. The excitement we call attaching into the outer senses most of the time is stress, agitation, depression, anxiety. The outer physical is very dense. Thoughts focused on the outer are dense thoughts. Thoughts aiming us inside lead us toward the bliss and the light of the self. Get clear on where you are going to take appropriate steps to your transformation. You can reincarnate in this very life. What is your path? How are you going to the Light of bliss within? You have to let go of the outer for some time and focus within to know it.

Use this practice to cultivate an inward flowing mind. Turn within and be present to your own unfolding~

About the Author:

Nirgunavathi Ananda
Nirgunavathi has studied yoga for 32 years in France, India and the U.S. She has studied Anusara Yoga with John Friend since 1998 and was licensed as an Anusara Yoga teacher in 2003. She is delighted to offer the Yoga Sutras and other life enhancing yogic themes in her playfully serious alignment based Anusara Yoga classes at Lake Center Yoga.

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