Fitness Magazine

Pratyahara and Healthy Aging

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram

Pratyahara and Healthy Aging

Fern by Melina Meza

In the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali we are introduced to the eight rungs/limbs/steps of yoga whose practice helps us to develop attention as a tool to discriminate between ignorance and awareness and between truth and illusion, which is the means for liberation or enlightenment. Pratyahara is rung five of the eight rungs. Verse 2.54 in the Yoga Sutras describes Pratyahara as:
sva vishaya asamprayoge chittasya svarupe anukarah iva indriyanam pratyaharah
When the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas) cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in their mental realm, and assimilate or turn back into the mind-field from which they arose, this is called pratyahara. —trans. by Swami Jnaneshvara.

Check any commentary or text on this topic and the term “pratyahara” would be defined as “withdrawal of senses.” However, the concept of withdrawal of senses may be difficult to comprehend for I have witnessed a few teachers in some of the yoga teacher’s training gently brushing off this topic. During the course of her blog interview with Nina and Shari when asked about how she adapted her yoga practice through peri-menopause and menopause, Judith Laster remarked, “As I entered peri-menopause, I noticed a definite shift of my interest. It was as if a natural pratyahara was taking place.” Ever wondered what Judith meant by that statement?
Personally speaking, “withdrawal of senses” does not appeal to me. In this present world, staying with a family, raising kids and paying college tuitions, doing our jobs and facing challenges at work, etc. all require the coordinated usage of the five senses. One cannot withdraw the senses from our daily life’s duties unless we give up on everything and retire to the mountains. So I like to define pratyahara as “using our senses with total/complete awareness.” Our five senses serve as portals or gateways into our body, mind and consciousness. We are what we eat, smell, see, hear and touch. It is through these senses that we absorb the world around us. If we take in harmonious impressions through our senses, we will in turn be healthier. If we take in that which is unhealthy, the mind and body suffers. If we are not aware about what we draw in through our senses, it can lead to physical and mental instability. The human body and mind can survive on low-quality sensory impressions but it cannot thrive. In order to maximize life potential, each person must learn to live harmoniously with their environment through the five senses.
Most of us are familiar with one of the main tenets of the Yoga philosophy:
Yogas chitta vritii nirodhah
[yoga =union, to join; chitta = mutable thoughts of the mind-field; vritti = mental fluctuations/modifications, nirodhah = coordination, regulation, integration, channeling]
Yoga is the coordinated channeling of the gross and subtle thought patterns of the mind. —trans. by Swami Jnaneshvara
A human being as a whole is a combination of body, mind and spirit—physical, mental (psychological) and spiritual dimension. When we just think of ourselves as a physical body, we lose this awareness and through our five senses we get attracted to material possessions and surround ourselves with them. As we continue to build more material desires, we start making wrong choices. As a result, frustration and stress builds up and we lose our connection with the mind and spirit. This leads to mental imbalance/fluctuations (vrittis) leading to physical instability. Healing is the process of regulating the impressions that we draw in with total awareness through the five senses and returning to harmony. Once back in harmony, the body and the mind have no reason to communicate the imbalances. It is only through experience and awareness that we gradually awaken to the true role of our senses. Enlightenment is when we have a control over our senses and perform only those activities that not only empower us but the society as well. Such beneficial activities do not disturb the natural balance of the body or the society. The body is at ease; the mind attains peace.

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