Many of you who come to Expansions have heard a teacher make reference to something called the 8 limbs of yoga. They are written in Sanskrit on our walls. Many of you have come expressly to practice one of those limbs, asana (limb 3, the physical postures of yoga). Perhaps you have an interest in dhyana (meditation, limb 7) or pranayama (breathing exercises, limb 4) but you haven’t asked for these things specifically, they are an interesting by-product of a class. If your teacher is steeped in the 8 limbs, it is our hope that you will be as fascinated by the rest of the limbs as you are with asana.
Pratyahara, limb 5, invites us to turn our awareness inward. Take your eyes off the iPhone, put down the fork, stop talking, turn off the music and just go quiet and completely disengage from everything. This will be nearly impossible for some of us, especially if you suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out).
We live in a society that pushes us to have and do more. In fact, we are often told via advertisements that we are empty and we must fill our lives with a myriad of wonderful products and experiences, take a cruise, buy a new car, and check out the shoe sale on Zappos! Who can pass up the latest and greatest new thing? No one wants to be left behind.
And yet we struggle with the burden of all these THINGS in our lives. We can barely manage all the events we have scheduled, all the running hither and yon, taking the kids to yet another soccer practice and picking up groceries for the week. We long to shut things off but just can’t figure out how. So, just as we started, we must slowly begin to remove things from the schedule.
However, this notion of pratyahara may seem frightening, who really wants to shut down their senses? They’re kind of handy. Yet, all day we’re bombarded with sounds, smells, sights and some tastes we’d really rather forget. Let’s take a look at pratyahara in a slightly different perspective.
In the book, The Yoga of Discipline by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda the author says; “the whole purpose of hatha yoga is to draw the attention inward.” Simply by stepping onto the mat, we have already started the journey. And just like many yoga postures, we go slowly. Maybe take just a minute to start.
Go into a dark room and sit, quietly, no distractions. Your mind will probably seem loud but you will learn to divert the attention IN to the body and begin directing your thoughts. Pratyahara doesn’t necessarily mean shut OFF, it means go INWARD. Start to listen inward, feel inward and see inward. You might be surprised at what you start to learn about yourself. You might learn you don’t like going hither and yon as much as you thought. You might learn that you don’t need as much as you thought and that you can live with a lot less and the things that you do have will have much more meaning and usefulness to you.
After some time, maybe a LOT of time, you’ll start to crave this thing called pratyahara. You’ll be able to go out into the world, engage when you need and then disengage when you need to and recharge. That’s the beauty of the 8 limbs of yoga, there’s something there for you all along with path of this thing we call life. Don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself.
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