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The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 5 –Pratyahara)

25 January 2013

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 5 –Pratyahara)Pratyahara is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara, with ahara meaning anything taken into ourselves, and prati, a preposition meaning away or against. Pratyahara means literally “control of ahara,” or “gaining mastery over external influences.” It is compared to a turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell; the turtle’s shell is the mind and the senses are the limbs. The term is usually translated as “withdrawal from the senses,” but much more is implied.

Pratyahara is the fifth of Patanjali’s “Eight Limbs” of Raja Yoga (or classical yoga).

In yogic philosophy there are three levels of ahara, or food. The first is physical food that brings in the five elements necessary to nourish the body. The second is impressions, which bring in the subtle substances necessary to nourish the mind; the sensations of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell. The third level of ahara is our associations, the people we hold at heart level who serve to nourish the soul and affect us with the gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Pratyahara is twofold. It involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions and right associations. We cannot control our mental impressions without right diet and right relationship, but pratyahara’s primary importance lies in control of sensory impressions which frees the mind to move within, preparing the student for the next stage in the Eight Limbs, “Dharana” (Concentration).

When we withdraw our awareness from negative impressions, pratyahara strengthens our mind’s powers of immunity. Just like a healthy body resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind can ward off the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by noise and/or turmoil in the environment around you; practice pratyahara, for without it, you will not be able to concentrate or meditate properly.

Pratyahara and the prevention of disease: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 5 –Pratyahara)

Ayurveda recognizes that the inappropriate use of the senses is one of the main causes of disease. Mental disease is directly connected with the intake of unwholesome impressions. Therefore pratyahara is an effective practice for treating all mental disorders. Additionally, it is very helpful in treating nervous system disorders, especially those that arise through hyperactivity. Most of the time we overly express our emotions and this drains us of tremendous amounts of energy. Pratyahara teaches us to hold our energy within us and not disperse it unnecessarily. When conserved this energy can be drawn upon for creative, spiritual or healing purposes as needed and can provide the extra power we may need to accomplish the things that are really important to us.

Physical (bodily) disease mainly arises from taking in unwholesome food. Pratyahara affords us control of the senses so that we do not crave wrong food. When the senses are controlled, everything is controlled and no wrong or artificial cravings can arise. This is why Ayurveda emphasizes proper use of the senses as one of the most important factors for wholesome living, disease prevention and maintaining optimal health.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 5 –Pratyahara)

Related article, click on: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 4 – Pranayama)

Check back soon for “The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 6 –Dharana)”

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