What 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 yoga.
In my guide to using yoga for positivity I reveal how you can boost your mindset by using certain yoga poses.
Pratyahara is similar because it boosts positivity and inner wellbeing. But I t also goes much further.
Pratyahara is a yogic method of training the mind to withdraw from the senses.
Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., says that Pratyahara is when we “have a space between the world around [us] and [our] responses to that world.”
In Pratyahara, we are present in the world, but spiritually and emotionally protected, as though there were a psychic shell around us.
When you learn Pratyahara your mind becomes invincible to external stimuli.
Actually, there are very many benefits of Pratyahara
Pratyahara offers many benefits, of which the most important is this: With pratyahara, we are not reactive.
Most people spend their entire 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 knows what it feels like to live in this perpetual cycle of reactivity.
Pratyahara gives us the ability to step out of all that reactivity. It puts a psychic shield up between ourselves 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. Being relaxed is good for the body and mind. It improves our immune system, reduces negative feelings like stress, and promotes inner joy and happiness.
So there are many benefits of Pratyahara, of which the most important is that it distances the mind from the overload of external stimuli.
Sounds good, right?
So how can we experience Pratyahara?
To experience the benefits of Pratyahara, we have to practice it properly. And to practice pratyahara, we need to understand its role in the yogic system.
Let’s take look.
What is Pratayhara?
Many people consider pratyahara to be similar to meditation.
Pratyahara and meditation both create inner calm and help us focus our minds and take control. But there are important differences between pratyahara and meditation. In fact, Pratyahara and meditation actually work best when practiced together.
Meditation creates inner peace and focus. Pratayahra helps us to maintain the inner peace and focus.
Many meditators find that they can produce inner peace when they meditate, but 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 can empty the water (empty the thoughts / sensory information) from the boat (the mind), but it doesn’t patch the holes, so inevitably water will come 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 Pratyahara is all about. It safeguards the mind from external stimuli so that we can keep our inner peace and quiet.
That’s why, if you lose focus shortly after meditating, you should start practicing Pratyahara.
Pratyahara helps us keep focus by withdrawing from senses
In my guide to keeping focus in life I discuss how easy it is to get caught up in external stimuli. In other words: It’s easy to be distracted.
We get distracted because of the senses.
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. This horse-drawn chariot symbolises how we lose control of the mind when we become too caught-up in the senses.
To give a real-world example: When you’re writing that business letter at work but you keep flipping back to Facebook and looking at cats, you could say that you have lost control of the reins of the mind and are veering off-course.
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, your senses might be getting the better of you.
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 their taking control.
Enlightened people have complete control of their senses. But the average person is on auto-pilot, reacting to sensory information, allowing their senses to dictate their actions.
By controlling the senses we can shape the subconscious mind
In my guide to the subconscious mind I reveal how to take control of this most powerful part of your mind.
Pratayahra is very beneficial to the subconscious mind because it gives us control of the information we take in.
Too much negative sensory information will corrode the mind.
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.
Take the daily news, for instance. A constant stream of negativity and violence. It makes the world look like an awful place. And those impression enter the mind and change our 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. They make the mind fat on negative impressions.
Ayurveda (an Indian medicinal system) states that mental impressions are the food of the mind. When you’re on Facebook every day, or watching the news, you’re essentially ingesting the mental equivalent of McDonalds. Your mind will become unhealthy because of it.
The idea of information as food is important in yoga.
Yogis use the word “Ahara” to refer to the different kinds of “food”. There is:
- the psychical food;
- the elements of earth, water, fire and air;
- impressions that feed the subconscious mind;
- sensory information (sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell);
- and associations—people who nourish our soul and influence our gunas, sattva, rajas, and tamas.
Pratyahara 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 would –intentionally—create great discomfort)
- Sunlight diet (taking no nourishment but air and sunlight)
- And for everyone else, there’s meditation and Pratyahara
Meditation and pratyahara are safe, healthy ways of achieving control of the senses.
Pratyahara is one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga”.
Pratyahara comes from Ashtanga yoga, a classical form of yoga devised by the sage Patanjali some 1700 years ago.
(Read our guide to 13 types of yoga for more on this).
Ashtanga yoga describes Eight stages or “Limbs”:
- Yama (observances)
- Niyama (disciplines)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breath control)
- Pratyahara (control of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation),
- Samadhi (absorption).
The fifth limb is Pratyahara, which literally means “withdrawal of the senses” (this is the same as the first stage of the Buddhist “Kalacakra” tantras “sadangayoga”.
Long story short: Pratyahara is 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 is in the middle, it is one of the most important parts, binding the outer and inner together.
When we practice Pratyahara we boost both the body and the mind. That’s why Pratyahara will help with both the physical aspects of yoga and the psychological aspects.
We’ll look at precisely how to do Pratyahara in a moment. First let’s look at the meaning of Pratyahara.
What Pratyahara Means
In our Spiritual Words Dictionary we describe Pratyahara as “withdrawal from the senses”.
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 ourselves
Interestingly, “Prati” also means to copy.
So, what does Pratyahara mean? It 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 Buddhist use this sense-withdrawal in different ways.
Buddhists remove the senses in order to replace them with mental images of the Buddha. Yogis use Pratyahara to achieve Samyama, a meditative state where 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 to relax and focus the mind, and to replace negative sensory information (such as violent images from media) with positive thoughts (such as love and kindness), which will promote happiness and inner peace.
Here’s what Pratyahara 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. Imagine always having inner calm and composure. That’s what Pratyahara gives us.
[CLICK TO TWEET] “Just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs, so when a man withdraws his senses from the sense objects, his wisdom becomes steady.” -Bhagavad Gita
We’ve taken a good look at the background of Pratyahara. Now it’s time to start to learn how to actually practice Pratyahara.
To start with, let’s look at the four main types of Pratyahara.
Types of Pratyahara
There are four main types of Pratyahara that we can practice:
When we take in too much information via the senses, we lose focus and risk losing our inner peace.
Problem is, 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. On our Facebook page, 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 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, the most notable being pranayama (the practice of controlling prana through specific breathing exercises).
Karma Pratyahara 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, our every deed done for the benefit of others and in devotion to the divine.
Mano Pratyahara is about withdrawing from that which is impure and unwholesome. This is done by sensory withdrawal and cultivation of the inward mind.
Now we know everything we need to know about Pratyahara. Time to start practicing.
How To Do Pratyahara – Introduction
You’ve probably noticed that Pratyahara is a big subject. It is one of the most complex parts of yoga (which is one reason many yogis make the mistake of not practicing it).
Because Pratyahara 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 (or saving it on Facebook) so you can refer to it later.
- Get started with some lifestyle tweaks
The best way to start Pratyahara is to make a few important lifestyle changes.
- a) Follow the basics of wellness
To start doing Pratyahara, follow the essentials of wellness. Follow these 7 essential easy wellness tips.
- 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 your, 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.
- 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 that one major source of negativity that you are going to be distancing yourself from them.
- Stop going to places rife with negative people (like that grotty bar you sometimes go to).
- 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. I recommend you to 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.
- 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.
- 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—and you wont need dating sites anymore. When you correct your perspective on love, love will come rushing to you.
- g) Meditation and mindfulness
Practice a system of meditation and mindfulness. This will replace negative mind impressions with positive ones.
I recommend you start with these 25 mindful habits.
- h) Sleep healthily
Healthy sleep is the number one natural form of pratyahara because when we sleep we stop the flow of sensory information and allow the mind to restore its inner balance. That’s why it is essential to get the right amount of healthy sleep each night.
Can’t sleep? Read this guide to using meditation for sleep. Problem solved.
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.
- 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.
- j) Spend time with positive people
Positive friends and family are a great source of good influences. Spend time with the people who will boost your mind.
- k) Practice Karma Yoga
Good work can be a profound source of positive impressions and a great way of improving self control. When we dedicate our work to others (or to the divine) we produce positive karma we stop being controlled by our selfish senses and start being motivated by love, kindness, compassion, and selflessness.
- Advancing the Pratyaharic Lifestyle
We now have a sound foundation to build on. Time to expand into a more advanced, even healthier lifestyle. Here’s how.
- 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 great 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.
- 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—no thanks! But practicing celibacy for a period of time 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
- c) Periods of silence
Some Buddhist sanghas (communities) vow themselves to never speak. This is 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. By not speaking we stop ourselves from speaking in harmful or violent ways and we increase self control because of the willpower required to stay silent. (Not to mention, many households are much more peaceful on silent days!).
- d) Turn off all devices
Ay karumba! 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 small 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!
- Meditations for Pratyahara
We can take Pratyahara further by incorporating meditating practices.
Any meditation will improve Pratyahara. But some meditations are more effective than others.
Pranayama, for instance, is the consciously 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.
Another excellent type of meditation for Pratyahra is Third Eye Meditation (Ajna meditation). In this meditation technique we focus the mind on the third-eye chakra while our eyes are open. This trains the mind to control the visual sense while maintaining focus.
We can also use focused awareness techniques. This is a type of meditation where consciousness is focused on any one individual thing. A good Pratyaharic technique is to sit in an area where there are few external stimuli, and then to 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.
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 20 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 relaxed and you 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
Use Yoni Mudra
Read our complete guide to mudras for important background info on this.
Yoni mudra (Shanmukhi) is a powerful mudra for promoting Pratyahara and 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.
Yoni mudra quiets the mind, calms the nervous system, and heightens control over the senses. In this position we gain inner awareness.
Try Laya Yoga
Laya yoga is a type of yoga created by Sage Gorakshnatha. A more meditative type of yoga, Laya yoga uses meditations to active the seven chakras (read our guide to Chakra meditations for more on this).
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.
The most advanced type of Pratyahara is Mano Pratyahara. As this stage the mind withdraws from the senses 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
Today, when the average person lives on auto-pilot and is lost in their senses, Pratyahara offers a valuable aid.
By practicing Pratayahra yoga we can withdraw from the senses, increase self control, and stop being so 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. No more reactivity to noise or negativity. That is what Pratayahra offers.