Note: For the complete lessons,
with additions, see the AYP
Easy Lessons for Ecstatic Living Books.
Lesson 359 – Pratyahara – The Forgotten Limb
Date: September 7, 2009
New Members: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous
lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why
Q: It seems to me that attachment to sense
perceptions is at the heart of our ignorance and suffering. That might
explain why "pratyahara" is prominently listed as one of the eight limbs of
yoga. Yet, there seems to be very little in the practices of yoga that is
directly focused in this area. It leads me to wonder if pratyahara is the
forgotten limb of yoga. Your thoughts on this?
A: Pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga, is usually translated to mean
"withdrawal of attachment to sensory perceptions." There are two ways of
looking at this.
First is as a gradual evolution of attention toward the finer realms of
experience where sensory perceptions become more ecstatic and naturally
imbued with pure bliss consciousness. In this case, the process of
pratyahara is a natural byproduct of the emergence of abiding inner silence
and ecstatic conductivity.
A second way of looking at pratyahara is as an aspect of self-inquiry, which
is for loosening the grip of identified awareness on all objects of
perception, including thoughts, feelings, and sensory experiences
registering in consciousness. This second view of pratyahara is more common.
Because the psychology of it is seemingly more direct,
the mind latches on. Unfortunately, the psychology of pratyahara,
without the cultivation of abiding inner silence (the witness) beforehand,
is like the psychology of premature self-inquiry – what we have called
"non-relational" (not in stillness) in previous lessons, and prone to
building mental castles in the air.
All the limbs of yoga are connected, and the sequence in which we approach
them can make a big difference in how the connections occur, and how
effective each practice may be in its own turn. Knowing this and gaining
direct experience with it in self-directed practice can bring pratyahara
into much clearer focus, not as a "forgotten limb," but as the meeting place
of inner silence and ecstatic conductivity, with further movement forward as
these two pillars of enlightenment become merged in our daily life.
In the AYP approach to pratyahara, we begin with how we define it. We define
it first as an "introversion of sensory
perception" See Lesson 149. Taking a gradual approach
to transforming sensory perception and our relationship to it, rather that
attempting to disconnect (withdraw) from it immediately, is a far more
practical approach to pratyahara. With deep meditation and spinal breathing
pranayama, we begin that refinement of sensory perception early on. As we
proceed later on into samyama, mudras, bandhas and other methods for
promoting the rise of inner silence and ecstatic conductivity, we find that
our sensory perception refines accordingly. As we become the immovable
witness, while at the same time coming to know sensory experiences as
ecstatic (kundalini aspect), then we find ourselves more naturally inclined
to engage in "relational" (in stillness) self-inquiry. That is where the
"withdrawal of attachment to sensory perceptions" comes in and
we can gain real experiential traction, beyond the imaginings of the
mind. In a practical approach like this, pratyahara has two stages:
- The refinement (introversion) of sensory perceptions
through the neurobiological processes of yoga.
- The transcendence of sensory perceptions (withdrawal of attachment)
through relational self-inquiry.
As we have been discussing in previous lessons, effective self-inquiry,
and pratyahara by association, are dependent on the cultivation of abiding
inner silence and ecstatic conductivity in our core sitting practices, and
are closely intertwined with our bhakti and cultivated habit of samyama
(ability to surrender intentions and inquiries in
stillness). So pratyahara is a meeting place for all of these aspects of our
It is in stillness that we are able to move beyond all attachments, even as
we naturally integrate stillness back into our everyday activity in an
ongoing outpouring of divine love. It is life lived as stillness in action,
which is the fulfillment of all paths of spiritual practice. An effective
self-directed integration of the key elements of
practice makes all the difference.
The guru is in you.
Note: In core samyama practice, the sutra "Inner Sensuality," is used
for promoting the cultivation of pratyahara.
Self-directed research on the refinement of sensory perception can be undertaken
using Patanjali’s Samyama Sutras
in the Appendix of the
AYP Samyama book, where sutras are provided for refining the
individual senses of hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell.