In the previous post, we had discussed on Manomaya Kosha. This post answers the question “What is Pratyahara?” Pratyahara is the beginning of the training in how to deal with the human mind. First of all in the practice of pratyahara we are taught to extend our awareness outside, just as in the practices of pawanmuktasana we are taught to extend the awareness to the different parts of the body, to know that they exist.
You can try an experiment. Go and see someone who does not practice yoga and ask one question. The question is, how many times a day do you become aware of your feet or toes? If there is pain or suffering then, of course, they will be aware of the pain in the feet, otherwise, you will find very few people who are aware of them.
Just as in pawanmuktasana we become aware of the extremities of the body, in pratyahara we become aware of the extensions of the mind into the outer world. After you have been able to fully extend your senses and your awareness externally, then the process of gradually withdrawing them and, focusing them inside begins.
Meditation is not just stopping the external influences from affecting your mind, and meditation is not just a process in which we become aware of the mind. Meditation is when we add the quality of awareness to every process and activity.
A very apt description of pratyahara is that it is like a turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell. How many limbs does a turtle withdraw into its shell? Two arms, two legs, one tail and one head. The two arms, the two legs, and the tail represent the five senses and the head represents the mind, the mental activity.
The senses, by nature, are attracted to objects from which they derive pleasure, and the mind fluctuates from one object to the next. There are two tendencies of mind; that of attraction and that of repulsion. When there is an attraction there is a feeling of pleasure and when there is repulsion there is a feeling of disconnection or pain.
In order to gain the ability to withdraw our senses from external objects, there has to be an understanding of the nature of the objects to which the senses are attracted. So, before any kind of withdrawal, there has to be an extension of the mental faculties.
The extension of the mental faculties is the first stage of pratyahara – extending the mind to recognize the sounds, skin sensations, smells, and tastes. Once there is an awareness of the environment to which we are normally attracted, we gradually begin to isolate ourselves from these sense objects, and we begin to focus ourselves internally at one point.
If we are able to follow this concept of pratyahara, by the time we attain perfection in pratyahara there will be a good control and creativity manifesting in the level of the senses and the mind: manas, buddhi, chitta, and ahamkara. There will not be distractions, the energies will be focused, the consciousness will be awakened, and then the state of dharana will come.
So, with the practice of pratyahara which evolves into dharana, we re-educate the mind to become aware of itself and this is a very important aspect of education which we have never yet received in our lives. Social education is job-oriented whereas the yogic system of education gives self-awareness.
This is not a selfish attitude towards one’s self, rather it is knowing the qualities one has, and using those qualities in life. With that comes awareness of your own performance and reactions in life, and learning how to harmonize them.
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