10 Things About Pratyahara: The Pivotal Moment in a Yogi’s Path.

Via Claudia Azula Altucher
on Mar 20, 2011
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One way to test how difficult pratyahara is, says B.K.S. Iyengar, is to go for a walk and at the same time try not to comment or judge or even name what you see hear or smell:

“Even on a country walk, though you might be able to stop yourself from saying “beautiful” it will be almost impossible not to let yourself name the objects -teak tree, cherry tree, violet hibiscus, thorn bush, etc.”

Pratyahara is the 5th limb of yoga and it is concerned with taking us from the outside to the inside, with withdrawing the senses, so that the yogi like an inner-naut can travel within and find the “Self”.

Maybe more upsetting to me was to hear his description of how we are not really receptive at all, and how we are unable to greet, say, a sunset, to let it in.  Rather our senses look out with inquisitive fire, naming, owning what they see “as if life was a nonstop shopping spree”.

Ouch! That hurt. Probably because it’s true.

These are in no particular order some descriptions, definitions, purposes I found on pratyahara. They are all from Iyengar unless otherwise noted. I spared the quotation marks as they are all or partly quotes. My favorite is #7:

1.- The yogic purpose of pratyahara is to make the mind shut up so we can concentrate.

2.-Pratyahara is built brick by brick through yama niyama, asana and pranayama, then utilized in dharana dhyana and samadhi.  It is the fifth petal of yoga, also called the “hinge” of the outer and inner quest.  It is the pivotal movement on yoga’s path.

3.-Iyengar says that in Sanskrit, pratyahara literally means “to draw toward the opposite”.  The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain, a difficult reaction.

4.- Pratyahara is mano-vrtti nirodha, it directly works from the mind like a pneumatic tool to cut its outgoing habits by changing its direction to penetrate inwards towards the core.

5- Pattabhi Jois says in Yoga Mala that yoga is a path we step into and that will lead us towards unveiling the Self.  I remember being disoriented as I could not grasp what “Self” meant. Pratyahara, says Iyengar: helps the mind to acquire knowledge of the Self.

6.-When at the stage of prathyahara the aspirant requires stable and intense self-study … [because]… the ego takes pride even in this controlled mind.  At that point the mind has to direct the energy towards concentration (the next step), or fall for the ego’s uprising. There lies the difficulty in pratyahara.

7.- Pratyahara is a tableland for maintaining, sustaining and retaining what is gained through the previous limbs.

8.- Pratyahara is a samskara -a culture on the mind.  As I [Claudia] see it is  a “new wiring” of sorts where we change directions as the attention constantly goes out and instead we rein it inside.

9.- Pratyahara undoubtedly is very difficult, as it has to be firmly established on asana and pranayama which discipline the organs of action, perception, and mind.

10.- Swami Vivekananda (who introduced yoga and Vedanta to Europe and America) calls Pratyahara a “gathering towards“, as in freeing it from the thralldom of the senses. He says that when we can do this well we shall really possess character and have made a long step towards freedom; before then: “we are machines”.


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About Claudia Azula Altucher

Claudia Azula Altucher has studied yoga for a long time. Her only focus these past eight years has been on Ashtanga through which she studied at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India (three study visits so far), and at Centered Yoga in Thailand (focus on practice, philosophy and pranayama). Currently she studies at Pure Yoga in NYC. She has taught yoga classes in both Spanish and English. She is also the Author of: 21 Things To Know Before Starting an Ashtanga Yoga Practice (you can get a free PDF at her blog). She writes daily at ClaudiaYoga.com And you can follow her on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ClaudiaYoga


11 Responses to “10 Things About Pratyahara: The Pivotal Moment in a Yogi’s Path.”

  1. Katherine says:

    I find it interesting that there is so much making of "lists" in yogic practice. :o)

    No idea what it means, just something I noticed…

  2. Hi, Claudia. The best analogy I've ever heard for pratyahara is closing one's eyes for an extended period. It's a valuable thing to do both because our minds do very different things when our eyes are closed, but also because it give us a newly vibrant appreciation of sight.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. Claudia says:

    Hi Katherine, not sure what you mean exactly. In my case I find that listing helps me remember, and it comes handy while at practice. What helps you remember things?

  5. Claudia says:

    Bob, interesting point. Yes, our minds do some "things" when we close our eyes… I am beginning to wonder if there is more to it because I find that closing the eyes, although useful, does not quite help with the withdrawal of the senses, which seems to be a step forward, but of course, closing the eyes is always a good way to begin… Appreciate your posting to Elephant and Twitter 🙂

  6. Claudia,
    Great compilation. I appreciate the impact of seeing these many quotes massed. Thanks for putting this together.

  7. Claudia says:

    Thank you Hilary, I think there is nobody like Iyengar when it comes to making things clear, he is such a genius with the written word!!! I appreciate your comment

  8. NotSoSure says:

    Great list. Condensed and easy to understand information culled mainly from Mr. Iyengar ( IMO the worlds greatest yoga authority). The brevity of this post is what helps drive the points home and makes the subject matter easier to grasp.

  9. Claudia says:

    Thank you NSS, sometimes i find that what you say is exactly what helps me during practice, having direct, short instructions somewhat works for me… and yes, he is the master of eloquency :-). I Appreciate your comment.

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