In this article, we will look at the very best pratyahara techniques and exercises.
Pratyahara yoga is the fifth limb of yoga. It’s a powerful way to master your mind, cultivate inner peace, and boost your focus and concentration.
Pratyahara techniques are all about sense withdrawal. They are about reducing the effects of negative influences in your life.
Imagine if you could access a state of mind where you are not distracted, where you are not affected by other people, where noisy environments do not bother you. What if you could maintain total inner peace even in the hardest of times?
It’s possible when you learn the art of Pratyahara.
Introduction To Pratyahara Yoga Techniques & Benefits
In my guide to using yoga for positivity, I reveal how you can boost your mindset with yoga poses.
Pratyahara is similar because it boosts positivity and inner wellbeing. But it also goes much further.
When you practice pratyahara you master your mind.
As all experienced yogis should know, meditation is important in yoga.
Pratyahara is similar to meditation. Both are about training the mind. Meditation does it through focus. Pratyahara techniques do it by withdrawing from the senses.
Judith Lasater, PhD, P.T., says that Pratyahara yoga is when we “have a space between the world around [us] and [our] responses to that world.”
When we practice Pratyahara we train the mind to be present in the world but spiritually and emotionally protected at the same time, as though there were a psychic shell around us.
When you learn Pratyahara your mind becomes invincible to external stimuli.
There are many benefits of pratyahara. Arguably the most important benefit is that it makes us less reactive.
Most people spend their lives in a constant cycle of reactivity. Your phone rings so you immediately answer it. It’s a meme your friend sent. You laugh. Look for other memes. Send one back. Now you’re on Facebook. Oh—there’s a big news story on Facebook, better read that…
Most of us know what it feels like to live in this perpetual cycle of reactivity.
Pratyahara techniques give us the ability to step out of all that reactivity. It puts a psychic shield between us and the world. It stops us from being so easily swayed by what’s going on around us.
Because we are less reactive, we are also calm. And calmness itself offers many benefits too.
- Is essential for happiness
- Improves the immune system
- Reduces negative feelings like stress
- Promotes inner joy
- Reduces free radicals, which cause illness and death.
Clearly, there are many benefits of Pratyahara.
Sounds good, right?
So how can we practise Pratyahara techniques?
To experience the benefits, we have to practice it properly. And to practice pratyahara exercises, we need to understand its role in the yogic system.
Let’s take look.
What are Pratyahara Techniques?
Pratyahara is similar to meditation because they create inner calm and help us focus our minds, giving us mental strength and emotional control.
But there are important differences between pratyahara exercises and meditation.
In fact, Pratyahara yoga and meditation work best when practised together.
- Meditation creates inner peace and focuses the mind.
- Pratyahara helps us to maintain that inner peace and focus.
Here’s how meditation and pratyahara techniques work together
Many meditators find that they can produce inner peace when they meditate. However, they lose their calm when they stop meditating.
This makes sense when you think about the nature of the mind.
The mind is like a boat with holes in it. When you meditate, you empty the water (empty the thoughts / sensory information) from the boat (the mind). But it doesn’t patch the holes. Therefore, water comes back in.
The water (the noise) in the mind comes from the senses.
Information flows into the mind through the senses. And no matter how much you meditate you will always end up with a mind full of noise unless you stop that overflow of information from entering your mind in the first place.
To keep the mind empty, stop the noise from getting in.
That’s what it is all about. Pratyahara safeguards the mind from external stimuli so that we can maintain inner peace.
If you lose focus shortly after meditating, you should start practising Pratyahara techniques.
The Katha Upanishad (an ancient Sanskrit text containing many of the founding philosophies of Hinduism) explains that sensory overload will derail a person.
In Katha Upanishads, there is the depiction of the Hindu philosophy of “Ratha Kalpana” (“horse image”). This description shows the body as a chariot that carries the self. This chariot is pulled by horses that represent the senses and driven by “Budhi” (inner wisdom), which uses manas (sensory mind) as reins. We lose control of the mind when we become too caught-up in the senses.
Do you experience any of the following problems:
- Easily being distracted
- Overreacting to things around you
- Checking your phone or email all the time
- Unwanted habits
- Sensory overload
- Information overload
- Addiction to social media
If so, it could be because of sensory overload.
Senses have a will of their own. They tell you what to do. They direct you to check your email, visit Facebook, perform unwanted habits and so on, without you even being aware that they are taking control.
Enlightened people have complete control of their senses. But the average person is on autopilot. They react to sensory information, allowing their senses to dictate their actions.
By controlling the senses, we shape the subconscious mind.
Pratyahara is beneficial to the subconscious mind because they give us control of the information we absorb.
Too much negative information will corrode the mind just like fat clogs your arteries.
Many people experience violent, depressive, angry, sad, or just plain negative thoughts. And the majority of those thoughts come from the sensory information we expose ourselves to.
We can think of these things as bad mental hygiene. They put impure information in the mind.
Take the daily news, for instance. A constant stream of negativity and violence. It makes the world look like an awful place. And those impressions enter the mind and change the subconscious.
In fact, scientific studies have proven that people who watch the news every day are more likely to experience anxiety and depression because the news makes them believe the world is a bad place.
Facebook. Twitter. Negative people. They all do the same thing. They give the mind poor nourishment and make the mind fat on negative impressions.
Ayurveda (the oldest medicinal system) states that mental impressions are the food of the mind. When you’re on Facebook or watching the news every day, you’re ingesting the mental equivalent of McDonald’s. It will make your mind ill.
The idea of information as food is important in yoga.
Yogis use the word “Ahara” to refer to the different kinds of “food”. There’s:
- Psychical food;
- The elements of earth, water, fire and air;
- Impressions that feed the subconscious mind;
- sensory information (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell);
- Associations—people who nourish our soul and influence our gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas.
Pratyahara yoga involves all these kinds of foods. It involves eating healthy (withdrawing from unhealthy foods), and removing negative impressions (TV, social media, etc).
When we withdraw from unhealthy “foods” we achieve both a healthy body and a healthy mind.
This is something many different spiritualities focus on, but in shockingly different ways.
Many spiritualities focus on controlling the senses
Most religions recognise how the senses drag us off course.
Some spiritualities go to extreme lengths to master the senses. There’s:
- Lying on a bed of nails
- Solitary confinement
- Suspension (putting hooks through the skin to suspend the body in painful ways)
- Wearing a hair-shirt (a shirt made of goat skin that creates agonising discomfort)
- Sunlight diet (taking no nourishment but air and sunlight)
- And for everyone else, there’s meditation and Pratyahara.
Meditation and pratyahara techniques are safe, healthy ways of controlling the senses.
Pratyahara yoga is the Fifth Limb of Yoga
Pratyahara comes from Ashtanga yoga, a classical form of yoga devised by the sage Patanjali.
Ashtanga yoga describes Eight stages or “Limbs”:
- Yama (observances)
- Niyama (disciplines)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (control of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Samadhi (absorption).
The fifth limb of yoga is Pratyahara, which literally means “withdrawal of the senses”. Incidentally, this is the same as the first stage of the Buddhist “Kalacakra” tantra “sadangayoga”.
Long story short: Pratyahara techniques are about withdrawing from the senses.
As such, pratyahara is a halfway point in yoga. It is between the outer aspects like asanas, and the inner aspects like Samadhi. And because Pratyahara yoga is in the middle, it is one of the most important parts, binding the outer and inner together.
It benefits both the mind and body.
We’ll look at precisely how to do Pratyahara in a moment. First, let’s look at the meaning.
The actual definition of the word “Pratyahara” comes from two Sanskrit words: “prati” and “ahara”.
The first word means to move away from. And the second refers to anything we take into the mind or body.
Prati: Move away from
Ahara: Things taken into us
Interestingly, “Prati” also means to copy.
So, what does Pratyahara mean?
Pratyahara means to move away from things taken into ourselves. In other words, to withdraw from sensory consumption. And then to replace the senses with something more positive.
Yogis and Buddhists use this sense-withdrawal in different ways.
Buddhists remove the senses to replace them with mental images of the Buddha.
Yogis use Pratyahara techniques to achieve Samyama, a meditative state. When we reach this state we transcend mind and body to achieve complete awareness of the true self.
Pratyahara may also be used in more practical, down-to-Earth terms. For instance, we can use Pratyahara yoga to relax and focus the mind. And to replace negative sensory information (such as violent images from the media) with positive thoughts (such as love and kindness). In turn, this will promote happiness and inner peace.
What pratyahara yoga feels like
When we practice pratyahara, we stop the different types of sensory information [the five senses] from reaching their respective areas of the brain. In other words: we turn off the noise of the world.
Imagine being able to walk through the busiest of cities while maintaining inner peace. Imagine not been affected by raised voices and bright lights. When we practice pratyahara, we find inner calm and composure.
How To Do Pratyahara Techniques And Exercises
We’ve taken a good look at the background. Now let’s look at how to do Pratyahara techniques.
To start with, let’s look at the four main types of Pratyahara yoga.
Types of Pratyahara Yoga
There are four main types of Pratyahara:
When we take in too much information via the senses, we lose focus and risk losing our inner peace.
The problem is that society predisposes us to sensory overload.
Books, social media, TV, video games, magazines… all of this can be junk food for the mind (I say can be because some games, shows, social media pages etc. actually do give positive impressions. In our newsletter, for instance, we always share positive impressions to create positive minds. But we are one of the rare few who actually do that. Most publishers focus on sensationalism).
Indriya Pratyahra yoga focuses on withdrawing from these negative sensory impressions. This removes those junk-foods from the mind and creates inner peace and mental wellbeing.
The senses are driven by prana. Therefore, we can gain control of the senses by controlling the flow of prana.
There are many yogic practices to control prana. Perhaps the most notable is pranayama (the practice of controlling prana through specific breathing exercises).
Karma Pratyahara yoga involves the practice of Karma Yoga.
Karma Yoga is about surrendering every action to the divine. It is a dedicated practice in which we act selflessly. We act for the benefit of others and in devotion to the divine.
Mano Pratyahara is about withdrawing from that which is impure and unwholesome. We do this through sensory withdrawal and cultivation of the inward mind.
Now we know everything we need to know about Pratyahara. Time to start practicing some pratyahara techniques.
You’ve probably noticed that this is a big subject. It is one of the most complex parts of yoga. Hence why many yogis make the mistake of not practising it.
Because it is such a big subject, it involves many different techniques. Some of those techniques are easy and suitable for novice yogis. And others are more complex and suitable for advanced yoga practitioners.
This in-depth guide will lead you through a complete system of Pratyahara.
Because this is an in-depth process, I highly recommend that you do each step as you come to it or make notes for later. Also consider bookmarking this so you can refer to it later.
1. Adopt the lifestyle
The best way to start Pratyahara yoga is to make a few important lifestyle changes.
1. a) Follow the basics of wellness
To start doing Pratyahara, follow the essentials of wellness, such as diet and exercise.
1. b) Check your devices
It seems strange to start such a spiritual practice with so trivial a matter. But today, our devices are the main source of negative impressions.
Follow these steps to prepare your devices for a healthier lifestyle:
- Go through your social media. Delete all pages that give negative impressions. Feel free to add pages that gives genuinely positive impressions (like ours at Facebook.com/TheDailyMeditation)
- Block any site that is a source of negativity (There are specific Chrome plugins you can use to prevent yourself from visiting these sites).
- Make all imagery on your devices positive (wallpaper, profile pics, etc).
- Remove negative apps (violent games, apps that distract you, etc.)
- Delete negative people from your contact lists
- Stop unnecessary notifications (like Facebook—you don’t need those annoying pop-up messages 24/7)
Now your devices are far more positive.
1. c) Distance yourself from negative people
Negative people are one of the main sources of negative impressions. If there are people in your life who routinely make you feel negative, distance yourself from them.
- Go through Facebook and delete people who make you feel negative.
- Tell one person who is major source of negativity that you are going to be distancing yourself from them.
- Stop going to places rife with negative people. You know, like that grotty bar you sometimes go to. Yes, I’m talking to myself here.
1. d) Change your entertainment
As a writer and actor, I personally love the stories on TV, and in movies and games. But they can be a source of negative impressions.
Be selective in your choice of media. It’s difficult to avoid all negativity. Instead, ask yourself what effect individual games, movies, books, and TV shows are having on you. If something is too negative, get rid of it.
1. e) Lose your phone
Do you really need your phone with you always? Probably not. And it is a constant source of sensory information. Get rid of it at least some of the time.
1. f) Love and the antithesis of love
Today, love is both performed and depicted in both positive and negative ways. It’s fairly obvious which is which. Stick to the positive.
Incidentally, if you are single and have a negative view of relationships, doing this one thing will change your life. When you correct your perspective on love, love will come rushing to you.
1. g) Meditation and mindfulness
Practice meditation and mindfulness. This will replace negative mental impressions with positive ones.
1. h) Sleep healthily
Healthy sleep is the number one natural form of pratyahara yoga. Why? Because when we sleep, we stop the flow of sensory information. Plus, we allow the mind to restore its inner balance. That’s why it is essential to get the right amount of healthy sleep each night.
So that’s the basics of removing negative people / negative influences from your life.
While we are removing negative impressions, we can also introduce positive ones. Here’s how.
1. i) Meditate on nature
Mother nature is a constant source of positive impressions. When we meditate on nature, we boost the positivity of our subconscious mind. Visit a waterfall or other beautiful nature spot and meditate on it.
1. j) Spend time with positive people
Positive friends and family are a great source of good influences. Spend time with people who will boost your mindset.
1. k) Practice Karma Yoga
When we dedicate our work to others (or to the divine) we produce positive karma. We stop being controlled by our selfish senses. And we start being motivated by love, kindness, compassion, and selflessness.
2. Advanced Pratyahara Techniques
We now have a sound foundation to build on. Time to expand into a more advanced, even healthier lifestyle. Here’s how.
2. a) Periods of fasting
Fasting is one of the most powerful ways to train the mind to control the senses.
Fasting for just 24 hours requires focus and willpower. That’s 24 hours in which the senses are telling the mind to eat. 24 hours in which the mind is learning to withdraw from those senses. This is a powerful mind-awakening experience.
DISCALIMER: Consult your doctor before trying this.
2. b) Periods of celibacy
Another way our senses scream at us is by demanding sexual gratification. Abstaining from that gratification is a powerful way of training the mind.
Some monks vow themselves to an entire life of celibacy. This is unenlightened. It is a natural and healthy urge to make love. However, practicing celibacy for a period can have tremendous benefits.
The benefits of celibacy include:
- Increased self control
- Peace of mind
- Less concern about physical appearance
- Less risk of STDs / STIs
- Decreased lust
- Increased kindness
2. c) Periods of silence
Some Buddhist sanghas (communities) have a vow of non-speech. They do this because speech is often a source of conflict and negative impressions. Consider how much speech is violent, manipulative or otherwise harmful.
Not speaking at all is an impossibility in most modern societies. But periods of silence are possible.
When we abstain from speaking, we train the mind to not give voice to negative thoughts. Plus, we increase self-control because of the willpower required to stay silent.
2. d) Turn off all devices
Ay Kurumba! This is a big one today, when so much of our lives are lived online. By turning off all devices you will immediately reduce information consumption by 95%. That’s one big step for inner peace; one giant leap for Pratyahara.
I challenge you!
All of the above ideas involve giving up one thing for a period of time. So here is a challenge that will massively boost your Pratyahara. Give up one thing every day. Maybe you have a no-sex Sunday; a no-screen Saturday; and a no-talking Tuesday. This will be a challenge. But it will massively increase your control of your senses.
3. Meditations for Pratyahara
We can take Pratyahara further by incorporating meditative practices.
Any meditation will improve Pratyahara. But some meditations are more effective than others.
Pranayama, for instance, is the conscious control of the breath in the body. This is often practiced in yoga studios, where we are told to match the breath to the changing of our asanas. We can take this further by meditating on the breath while we practice yoga. This is a form of Prana Pratyahra.
We can also use focused awareness techniques. This is a type of meditation where consciousness is focused on one object. A good Pratyahara technique is to sit in an area where there are few external stimuli, and then focus on one thing (such as the breath).
Try this visualisation
- Sit somewhere quiet and peaceful.
- Focus on your breath. Relax.
- Bring to mind the most beautiful nature scene you have ever seen.
- Focus on the visual elements of the scene. What do you see? Flowers? The ocean? A forest? Visualise the scene in detail.
- Hear the scene. What sounds are there? Birdsong? Waves? Singing? The rustle of the leaves among the trees?
- Continue through each sense. Imagine touching the scene. Smell it. Taste the air.
- This peaceful visualisation will produce inner calm and positive impressions.
3. Experience Pratyahara while doing Savasana (Corpse Pose)
One of the best ways to practice Pratayahra while doing yoga is to focus on one asana.
- Take Savasana (lie supine on the ground).
- Focus on breathing. Take twenty deep breaths.
- Notice your muscles relaxing and melting into the ground.
- Your mind will become distanced and less reactive to stimuli.
- Hold your gaze still and focus on the pose (your physical position)
- Consciously let go.
- Notice how your mind is relaxed and how you have become less reactive to external stimuli.
- If your mind does not relax, begin to label the senses as they come to you (“That is a sound”, “This is a physical sensation” etc.)
- Continue for 20 minutes
4. Use This Pratyahara Mudra
The best pratyahara mudra is “Yoni”.
Yoni mudra (Shanmukhi) is a powerful mudra for gaining control of the senses. Here’s how to do it.
- Sit comfortably
- Breathe slowly
- Bring your palms together with fingers and thumbs straight
- Point your thumbs to the sky
- Turn your pinky, ring, and middle fingers inwards so the pads are touching.
This is the best pratyahara mudra.
Yoni mudra quiets the mind, calms the nervous system, and heightens control over the senses. In this position we gain inner awareness.
5. Try Laya Yoga
Laya yoga is a type of yoga created by Sage Gorakshnatha. A meditative style, Laya yoga uses meditations to open the seven chakras. It includes lots of Pratyahara techniques.
Laya yoga uses meditations to move prana through the chakras and to awaken the kundalini energy at the base of the spine. This creates supreme consciousness and creates a near superhuman level of control over the senses.
6. Develop Mano-Pratyahara
The most advanced type of Pratyahara is Mano Pratyahara.
At this stage, the mind withdraws from the senses entirely and we develop inward awareness.
The Yoga Sutra states, “When the senses do not conform with their own objects but imitate the nature of the mind, that is [mano] pratyahara.”
To perform mano-pratyahara we consciously take our attention away from the senses. This can only be achieved at advanced levels.
Pratyahara is a powerful way of gaining complete self control. The pratyahara techniques we have looked at above are excellent ways to train your mind.
Today, when the average person lives on auto-pilot and is lost in their senses, Pratyahara offers a valuable aid.
By practising Pratyahara yoga we can withdraw from the senses, increase self-control, and stop being reactive to external stimuli.
Imagine living with a psychic shield around you that prevents you from being effected by any unwanted external stimuli. No more distractions. No more anxiety. That is what Pratayahra yoga offers.
Let me know how you get on with your pratyahara yoga practice.
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Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison