Pratyahara is the fifth element within the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses. When the mind is focused on things outside of us, the senses pull the mind in many directions. They can direct you toward environmental factors, or just situations in our lives. When the senses are triggered by something external, they direct attention toward it. This engages the mind further to explore those experiences. But, if the mind is focused inward, then the senses will be directed inward as well. An easy way to relate to this concept is to think of an instance when you’re fully immersed in a task, or a daydream. In that moment, you might not hear someone call your name, or notice someone walk by. During that time, your mind is focused in one direction. Therefore, your senses aren’t as alert to things happening around you.
The Purpose of Pratyahara
The withdrawal of the senses doesn’t mean turning them off. The goal is to keep them focused internally. When you practice pratyahara regularly during meditation, you gradually gain control over your mind and it’s compulsion toward outside disturbances. To keep the mind focused inward, pay attention to the breath and the sensations happening within your body. You may also want to fix the mind on one image, mantra, or thought, without straying from it. Training the mind in this way is the key step that bridges external yoga (The first four limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama) to internal yoga (the last three limbs: Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi). This is why Swami Sivananda called it the most important limb in the yoga sadhana (daily spiritual practice).
Understandably, pratyahara is difficult to fully grasp- both in concept, and especially, in execution. The mind is a difficult beast to tame. But as with mastering any skill, practice is key. Don’t be discouraged when you get distracted. Remember, it’s not about suppressing your thoughts. It’s about not engaging with them. Little by little, you’ll get better at it! So keep practicing. And if you have any tips to share, post them in the comments below!