Yoga – Pratyahara

Yoga – Pratyahara

Yoga - Pratyahara

Pratyahara is the fifth of the eight limbs of Yoga. A yogi should master each of the eight limbs to be a complete yogi, one who can attain Samadhi at will for an extended period.

We have already touched upon the first four limbs of Yoga, namely Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama. Pratyahara, the fifth limb, is vital.

The word Pratyahara in Sanskrit comprises two words: Prati and Ahara. Prati means that is away or against and Ahara denotes food. In the yogic context, Ahara denotes anything that can negatively affect the senses. Therefore Pratyahara means to keep all forms of negativity away.

The food, if eaten indiscriminately, can make the body sick. It also emboldens the cravings for certain food. Craving is a weakness of the mind. Meditation is not possible by a mind that is constantly distracted by cravings. When you suppress the cravings you gradually train the mind and bring it under your control.

However, Ahara in this context means more than just food. It includes the inputs that are fed to each of the sense organs. Now, all inputs are not negative. Inputs are positive as well. For example, just as one should avoid bad food, one is encouraged to have balanced nutritious food so as to keep the body healthy. One should not let the tongue speak words that can be hurtful, but one is indeed encouraged to engage in spiritual discussions.

Therefore, Pratyahara is often explained as withdrawal from the senses, but it should be noted that the withdrawal is from whatever brings negativity to the mind. If the company you keep is an impediment to your yogic progress, you should move away from those people.

But why is Pratyahara required? The aim is to keep the mind healthy and disciplined. Avoiding negative thoughts can largely boost the calmness of the mind. By intentionally ignoring the cravings of the sense organs, you train the mind to stay focused. A focused mind engenders a deep meditative state.