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Lesson 359 - Pratyahara The Forgotten Limb of Yoga?  (Audio)

From: Yogani
Date: September 7, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"

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 unfoldment. 

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.

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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 Patanjalis 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. Also see AYP Plus.

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