The fifth limb of yoga is sense-related. Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing the senses from everything that stimulates them. Normally, we live by our senses. We are drawn to look at beautiful or even ugly things. We listen, we taste, we touch, and we smell. This is the ordinary state of things, but it's also a state we can temporarily suspend in favor of a deeper awareness. Pratyahara cuts off the connection between the senses and the brain. This can happen during breathing exercises, meditation, the practice of yoga postures, or any activity requiring concentration.
But what is the purpose of detaching ourselves from our senses? Aren't the senses good? They help us appreciate beauty, as when we watch a sunset, or warn us of danger, as when we smell smoke or spoiled food, and they permit us to communicate with each other. Unfortunately, our senses can also become so pleasurable that they control us instead of us controlling them. Maybe you enjoy your sensation of taste so much that you have
Are you feeling listless, depressed, and under the weather? According to ancient yoga texts, you have too much prana outside your body. Prana is constantly moving and flowing into and out of us, and pranayama is a tool for maintaining your health and well-being. Keep yourself healthier and happier by keeping more prana inside (where it belongs)!
become a little too obsessed with food. Maybe you love to talk but often talk so much that you forget to listen. Maybe you're addicted to television, caffeine, or sex.
Wise Yogi Tells Us
If the yamas and niyamas seem like a lot to remember, make yourself an abbreviated version of them—as plain or fancy as you like (framed calligraphy? computer graphics?)— and hang it up in your bedroom, bathroom, or wherever you'll see it each day. Or make a copy of the "Eightfold Path in Brief" chart in this chapter. Soon you'll have them memorized and they'll become a part of you.
Detachment is also a great technique for pain control and an excellent way to deal with uncomfortable symptoms or chronic conditions. Try this technique for attaining sense withdrawal:
1. Sit erect. Place your thumbs on your ears, closing them off. Your eyes should be closed. Place your index fingers near your eyelashes to hold them gently shut and prevent movement of your eyeballs. (This assists the eyes in staying focused on the sun chakra or third eye. See Chapter 20, "Chakras, Mudras, Mantras, and Mandalas.") Each middle finger rests on the nasal passages. Your ring fingers are set on your upper lip and your little fingers on your lower lip.
2. Take a deep breath and gently press all fingers so your sense organs are suppressed. Turn inward, tuning out the external world. Focus your attention on your sun chakra.
3. When you can no longer comfortably hold your breath, release your fingers.
4. Exhale slowly. Inhale slowly. Repeat this gentle pressure for deeper reflections.
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