Pratyahara, which means withdrawal of the senses, is the fifth limb of Patanjali's Ashtanga Yoga. The etymology of Pratyahara states that it is derived from two Sanskrit words: prati and ahara, where prati means away or against and ahara meaning food, or anything taken into ourselves. So, Pratyahara literally means "to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses." In yoga, the term pratyahara implies withdrawal of the senses from getting attached to external objects. Pratyahara is the stage at which an expert learns how to control the "tentacles" of consciousness, which are known as indriyas in Sanskrit. Once through this stage, the person is able to see in subtle and the subtlest layers of multidimensional space, and to exit of his material body into them and to settle in them, accustoming himself to their subtlety, gentleness and purity.
Types of Pratyahara
There are two types of Pratyahara - Indriya Pratyahara and Prana
Pratyahara; these two further lead to two subsequent types of Pratyahara
- Karma Pratyahara and Mano Pratyahara.
Indriya Pratyahara implies Withdrawal Of Senses, or sensory
inputs into out physical being. Since five senses create sensory
overload, Indriya Pratyahara thwarts the collection in the mind.
Prana Pratyahara suggests Withdrawal Of Prana (vital energy of
the body), as prana is what that drives the senses. To stop the
dispersion of prana, we are required to control its flow and harmonize
Karma Pratyahara implies Control Of Action, which actually
entails not just control of motor organs, but also right action or work.
This finally leads to Mano Pratyahara which suggests the
Withdrawal of Mind. It is consciously practiced by withdrawing attention
from anything that is unpleasant, and distracting for the mind, such as,
by withdrawing attention from the senses, and directing it inwards.
Practices In Pratyahara
Pranayama is one of the most common practices for Pratyahara.
While doing Paranayama, the person withdraws from the external on its
own, and brings his focus inwards towards his breath. His connection
with the external senses and stimuli get detached steadily. Besides
Pranayama, another practice is to concentrate on Ajna Chakra or
the third eye - the point between the eyebrows.
Another common technique to facilitate the development of Pratyahara is
to first reduce physical stimuli, and then concentrate on one
sense, say hearing. It's natural tendency of the mind to roam between
the sensory inputs. In this situation, when there are no longer major
sensory inputs, and the mind gets tired of hearing, it is compelled to
turn inward. In the advanced stages, the electrical currents, which
pulsate through the nerves and even the reflex muscles, are turned off
by the practitioners. This may be achieved through Pranayama.