The fifth limb of ashtanga yoga, the eightfold path of yoga, is Pratyahara प्रत्याहार. Maharishi Patanjali has complied two sutras for pratyahara. The sutras are mentioned in the classical work on yoga, Patanjali Yoga Sutra. The first sutra defines the pratyahara and the second one talks about the fruit of practicing it.
The two yoga sutras are the last sutras of chapter two, sadhana paad of patanjali yoga sutra. The first yoga sutra on pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) is :
First Sutra On Pratyahara
स्वविषयासंप्रयोगे चित्तस्य स्वरूपानुकारैवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः ॥५४॥
svaviṣaya-asaṁprayoge cittasya svarūpānukāra-iv-endriyāṇāṁ pratyāhāraḥ ॥54॥
sva = own viṣaya = object, thing
a = not saṁprayoge = to come into contact with
cittasya = (is derived from chitta) the mind stuff
svarūpa = own form or nature
anukāra = imitating
eva = like; as it were
indriyāṇām = of the senses
pratyāhāraḥ = withdrawal
Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) – when not in contact with the objects, the sense organs follow, as it were, the nature of mind.
Senses – The Indriyas
Sense organs move outward towards the objects, things and events. For example, when sense organ of taste comes in contact with good food then mind feels happy and on the other hand when the food doesn’t taste good then bad emotion is what mind feels.
In brief when the five sense organs i.e. eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin comes in contact with the objects then we are able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch. And senses are connected to mind. Like horses are tied with the rein similarly the senses to the mind. So when these horses go outward and are not in control of charioteer then they take mind also with themselves. But when they are in control of charioteer then they can go out or stop at a place by the wish of the master.
Food For Senses
In other words pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) = prati + ahara. Prati is ‘to away or to withdraw’ and ahara is ‘the food, the food of senses’. Food for senses are their respective objects. For example a scene for eyes, music for ears, 6 tastes for tongue, good touch in the form of clothes for skin, fragrance for nose. Once the senses are not in contact with these objects then the mind too is not in contact with them. Then the mind stays in its natural state. And senses too imitate that state of mind.
Importance of Pratyahara
For a seeker it is important to have command over the mind otherwise these horses; senses will command. Hence blocking the spiritual journey. That is why our rishis, munis and masters have practiced the pratyahara. It is the first step to move inward. Here we stop senses to be in contact with the vishyas (objects). Then senses work according to the mind not vice versa. Ability to smell, taste, touch, see and hear take mind outwards towards objects. Introverting senses make them imitating the mind, rather than mind going out behind senses.
The Tools To Practice
However forcefully keeping the senses away from the objects is not the good idea. The more you force, the more they will lure for outward things. Detachment and continuous practice are the two tools to get success in spiritual journey.
Maharishi Patanjali has given the eightfold path of yoga. The eight angas are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyan and samadhi. Pranayama is before the pratyahara. So practicing pranayama there by automatically lead to pratyahara (प्रत्याहार).
Fruit Of Practice : Second Sutra
What will happen with detachment and practicing pranayama? The answer is, the senses still will receive the inputs from the world but mind will not. Now senses will not be able to distract mind and one has control over the senses. This is the fruit of pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) – mastery over the senses. The second sutra :
ततः परमा वश्यतेन्द्रियाणाम् ॥५५॥
tatah parama vashyata indriyanam //55//
tataḥ = thereby
paramā = highest, supreme, ultimate, perfected
vashyata = mastery, control
indriyāṇām = senses
There by the highest mastery over senses by pratyahara.
Do Mental Fasting
Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) is like keeping fast. As in physical fast we don’t eat much of food for body. Likewise is the mental fast, keep away senses from the food for mind which distracts mind. Pratyahara प्रत्याहार is the mental fast for the mental health. In Fact in fasting we eat or drink which is suitable for body so that it stays healthy. In like manner we keep mind in beautiful things like meditation, chanting, yoga nidra, practicing meditation on sky, tratak etc. They all are the tools for practicing pratyahara. Gradually as we add positive impressions the mind will be calmer and more beautiful. This is how horses can be controlled. If one tries to force or bind then it can turn one into a rebel. And we don’t want that. Spiritual path is the path of patience and practice, not of imposing.
Aim of Pratyahara
Once the pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) happens and mind becomes steady in its natural state then seeker can further go deep into the practice of dharana and dhyana to experience samadhi, which is the aim of the yogic practices.
Also Lord Krishna in Bhagavad Gita says that like the turtle withdraws its limb, the yogi attains wisdom by turning senses inside.
And the result is, one will not remain slave of senses and material world. If one wants to experience the objects then it will be at his will, not drawn by the objects. One will be able to develop the understanding by experiencing, that the pleasure and pain both we get from objects are short lived. And eventually the seeker will move inward to search for the real happiness. The complete control over senses will come automatically through wisdom and practice, when there is no desire left for the material world.
So in conclusion pratyahara (प्रत्याहार) is the important step in the journey. It will make you the master. Mind will stay in peace. And it is easier to practice anything when mind is not distracted.
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