The fifth limb of yoga is Pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. Like the limbs that come before it, pratyahara can be experienced in a number of ways. The times I’ve heard runner’s talk about hitting their stride reminds me of the way pranayama leads to pratyahara and then dharana. I was never a good runner but I had heard it from runners and then I first experienced it in the pool, doing laps. My breath had become calm and consistent and then the rest of the world disappeared. I’d hit a point when there was only the breath and the movement of my limbs through the water. Of course, it was always interrupted by the inevitable appearance of the wall.
Later, I discovered yoga. I didn’t get the whole savasana thing right away, not for a while. Practice got to the end, I’d lay in corpse pose a few breaths, but I couldn’t stay long. Yoga was exercise and one more thing I had to do today. As soon as exercise was over, everything else flooded in and I got up to do the many other tasks that filled up my day.
Like most Americans, I started yoga with the asanas and didn’t know I was on a path to enlightenment that required letting go or needing to have so much and do so much. I hadn’t even heard of the 8 limbs of Patanjali until my yoga instructor course. To be fair, I also hadn’t attended regular yoga classes for more than a four month period either. I was generally broke and relied on videos at first and Pinterest after that.
The point is that we don’t cultivate stillness in the US. We don’t cultivate aparigraha, brahmacharya, or any of the niyamas, so we’re constantly on the run for more things and more ways to buy them and more ways to show worth. Somewhere along the way, the rest of it started coming together and I partially credit yoga and partially credit a return to church, especially having found one that operated on principles akin to the yamas and niyamas.
Somewhere along the way, I not only found savasana, but am sometimes able to do most of my practice in a state of pratyahara. Having my own yoga room is helpful because it’s a room without distractions, but its not necessary. After doing yoga at a lot of locations at this point, I find the only thing necessary to reach pratyahara is to not be around a group throwing a ball or running around in such a way that I’m concerned they’ll run into me. Well, and some mental clarity. It’s much harder when I have things weighing on my mind. That’s when I need yoga most and I’m least likely to have pratyahara in the beginning, but I usually do by the end of practice. Balance poses are usually quite helpful for that.
The question remains, though. How do we get to pratyahara without the exercise? Let me know when you figure it out. Until then, I’ll be practicing through asanas and pranayama and trying to figure it out too.