Coffee Contemplations : Vol. XIV – Pratyahara


Sometimes called the lost limb, the yogic practice of pratyahara is the 5th limb of yoga as defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. This practice is the turning away from external influences that we take into the body or a mastery of the external life. This sounds a bit intense, but can be done through controlled diet, pranayama, and the senses in such a way that the practitioner begins to take reigns on their experience within the physical world. The two explorations that fascinate me the most are based on our sensory perception of the world : sound and sight.

We live in the busiest time the world has encountered. More and more, our culture is bombarded sounds and sights that impact and influence what and how we think. Billboards explain what can be sold as the “good life” on roads flooded with screaming sirens and angry horns. Even from the sanctuary of my home, I’m faced with the joyful sound of the BART every 15 minutes and a moody weed whacker. As a way to adapt, we’ve all become desensitized to these sounds and images – and how could we not? If you were to be open to all the sounds and images we must face at any given moment in a metropolitan area, I’m willing to wager some kind of explosion would happen. If we were acutely aware of our environment to the depths and breadth that it actually surrounds us, the overwhelm of the senses would cause irrevocable damage. Try, for just a moment, to notice every single thing happening around you from where you are. Notice what sounds swirl in and out of your ears. Notice the visual messages being communicated to you.  Is there anything you didn’t notice before paying attention?

This adaptation in turn blocks us from accessing a deep connection to the environment that we are apart of, and what’s more, we’re having an increasingly harder time hearing or seeing our truest selves… it’s a hard world to live in and I think that is why this practice would be called the lost limb – but it’s not lost…we’ve just mastered oblivion.  I can’t help asking what is the price… what have we sacrificed and lost in the face of so much disconnection… we’re disconnected from our bodies, our planet, and each other. We miss all the warning signs our bodies urgently toss at us until it’s too late and we fall into illness. We react to experiences and circumstances blindly because we’ve lost our ability to truly sense how and what we are feeling. We’re numbing out sensation versus taking control of them.. In this reality, I find it critical to change our patterning and start to reconnect to ourselves. We need to listen in to our world and change the sounds that do not resonate with us. It’s time to close our eyes and turn the gaze into our own reality, our own experience, our own bodies. Mastering how we receive the world requires that we first step into the body and learn the status quo. The question now is how am I currently receiving this world? You can then make changes to your environment – both inside and out. This is a practice of unraveling which is not pretty and not neat. It’s messy and chaotic, at times disheartening and painful, but necessary and completing. In order to be a conscious participant in this world, we must know how we are participating and be willing to meet ourselves right where we are. We must find ways to control what we take in both in by actively changing our world and how we process it internally.

The practice of indriya pratyahara (controlling of the senses) is a perfect place to start this journey. By withdrawing the senses, we are able to look at our internal landscape and begin to answer the question how am I currently receiving this world? David Frawley has compiled a resource for understanding various practices further – check it out here! There are many ways to disconnect and reconnect – be it going on a quiet hike (without your iPod please), fasting from media, or Shanmuki Mudra, you don’t have to be a victim of the external world. You simply have to change how you are willing to receive it.

I invite you inside. I invite you into the woods where sounds resonate with your internal wisdom. Into a place where sirens, both of body and in the air, alert you to trouble versus annoy you.  I invite you to close your eyes and look into your own soul for a definition of the good life. I invite you to your yoga mat and the beginning of this exploration. If you’re in the Bay Area, please join me for an evening of asana in the dark on April 4th from 6:30 – 9:00 PM. Check it out HERE!

When you are guided to the pathway of the heart, take a moment to breathe, and begin what you are about to do wholeheartedly. – Sufi Quote



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