Mat & Beyond Yoga Studio

Asana Journal

Pratyahara – What do we feed on?

When my students seat themselves in class, the first thing they are guided to do is to shift their minds from whatever it is caught up with to the space and the energy of the studio, to their bodies, to their breaths. So though it seems like a very standard process..yawn..there my teacher goes again..duuuh! it has a very deep and profound significance as it sets the stage for meditation and deep absorption.

This is the practice of Pratyahara, (Prati-opposite, ahara-food; what you feed on) mentioned as the fifth limb of the Ashtanga yoga in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. According to my teacher Manoj Kaimal; ahara-does not refer only to the food that we eat. In the context of the senses; What do we feed our eyes on? (fb, tv, cinemas whats app?) What do we feed our ears on? (a favorite song, a conversation with a particular person..) Each indriya (sense organ) has its own menu that it desires to feed on. And as we give our attention to our senses, the inert sense become almost alive, very powerful entities, so much so that our buddhi (intellect) lacks the power to control these indriyas. Have you ever tried to stay off fb for a day or switching off your phone? The answers are evident..Our buddhi is almost held hostage by the powerful addictive grip of our senses.

So like the tortise that withdraws under its shell when it senses a threat, we too have to practice pratyahara through directing our attention to focus on the body and the breath in pranayama and asana practice (body part, alignment, breath, state of mind) to reverse whatever it is that our senses habitually feed on.. anxieties, worries, what if’s, if only’s, guilt, regret..or maybe desires like the next vacation, the next handbag, the latest movie, the car we want to drive, the person that we crave to hear from:) and thus regain our power/sovereignty:) over the senses and to connect to our true self sva-rupa (as opposed to the person with an addition to fb:). And it is a long-term, continuous (dirga kala, nairantarya) practice where we patiently direct our awareness and attention to our chosen object..time and time again.

And this is one of the foremost abilities in life. The ability to shift the state of our minds by being able to direct and hold our attention on our chosen objects/areas of our lives. So…Do Yoga!!!