Pratyahara, to withdraw from the senses, is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s ashtanga, or eight-limb path, and has been defined in multiple ways and perspectives throughout my yoga journey. I’ve heard it is the deep point of savasana, when in yoga nidra, where your body is non-responsive to stimulus. There is part of your consciousness that can hear, but you are detached from responsiveness. I’ve also heard it’s reacting with thought, contemplation and reflection before responding. Or that pratyahara is your conversation and further reaction with discomfort whether that be emotional or physical.
Overall, I’ve noticed a trend of having to do with reaction. I would not like to discount any of the interpretations I’ve heard about pratyahara. If anything, I’d like to assume it applies to many or any situation we come across that could emit a reaction. Now what’s fascinating to me is the potential difference between tapas, disciplined use of energy, and pratyahara, withdraw from the senses. Tapas, to me, is having awareness to realize in what situation you are in and further, decide how much and what kind of energy you will use in that situation. Pratyahara on the other hand, I view as deciding on your reaction from an emotional and sensory place.
Tapas is “lower” on the eight-limb path as a niyama (limb 2). If anything that gives more grounds to its importance. We cannot reach beyond to pratyahara unless we first find sattva within limbs 1-4. So the awareness of where you are spending your energy and deciding how you will spend your energy eventually leads to being able to withdraw your emotional or sensory reactivity. Hey, yeah! That makes sense. First awareness, then action.
Moment of gratitude to Syl Carson at BodhiYoga. Thank you for helping me see that the answers I seek are all from within.
Kiera Lucich is a neural integration specialist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. She’s the owner of Smart Move Wellness, a brain-based wellness company dedicated to educating and training people to heal chronic and trauma-associated pain. For more information visit smartmovewellness.com.