Pratyahara is the fifth limb of yoga, according to The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali and refers to withdrawing from our senses. It comes after pranyama, which is the breath, and before dharana, which is concentration. Pratyahara is sometimes called the hinge to the outer and inner limbs of yoga.
Pratyahara literally translates from Sanskrit as "not to eat or consume," according to Richard Freeman in The Mirror of Yoga. Eating here is referring to the consumption of all our senses. By practicing pratyahara, you can train your mind to observe the "sense fields without identifying with or separating objects from their background," he writes.
Some yogis describe pratyahara as a practice of uniting our physical and spiritual selves—a turning inward that connects us more deeply with our consciousness. This is a rare phenomenon for our Western minds.
All the other limbs of yoga contain aspects of pratyahara. For example, when you practice pranyama, you use your breath to let go of your senses, or when you practice asanas, you attempt to let go of your thoughts and senses as much as possible. In fact, pratyahara provides the foundation for the higher practices of yoga and is the basis for meditation. It follows pranayama (or control of the breath) and by linking prana with the mind, it takes us out of the sphere of the body.
Benefits of practicing pratyahara
Pratyahara can sound very abstract until you put it into practice. It has many benefits and is worth incorporating into your yoga practice or cancer journey.
Here are some of its benefits:
When you let go of your urge to gobble up everything around you, you let go of suffering.
When you let go of suffering, you're able to experience more joy and happiness.
When you experience more joy and happiness, you boost seratonin and dopamine levels.
When that happens, your digestion usually improves, as does your sleep, and these have a positive effect on your entire well being, including your weight, skin, and immune system.
So how do you practice pratyahara?
Here are some helpful ways to incorporate pratyahara into your daily life (whether you practice yoga poses or not):
Social media fasts: Intentionally, going off social media or turning off your phone or computer can help you let go of negative impressions and go inward, not to mention it's good for your physical body not to be exposed to EMFs 24/7.
Nature gazing or meditating: Gazing at a blue sky or the ocean—what David Frawley calls a uniform impression—can help you reset your nervous system, especially after a jarring day of overwhelming negative impressions from work, traffic, technology, or traveling. You can also take your gazing one step deeper and go inward to meditate.
Creating rituals: Burning incense, lighting a candle, or using essential oil diffusers—all these rituals that involve your senses can help you create a positive impression and turn your mind inward by not consuming other negative impressions around you. Even a simple cup of tea while sitting on your favorite porch can do a world of good for your mind and body. Keeping your phone turned off—which is often the source of overwhelming negative impressions—even if only for 10 minutes while you take in a sunrise or sunset can be a great ritual to bring pratyahara into your life.