Pratyahara, one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga, is an integral part of meditation. Pratyahara is a withdrawal of the senses from the outside world and is the start of the process of going within. Once this phase has been mastered one is ready to enter the next phases of Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and eventually winding up in Samadhi (the ultimate bliss).
Setting aside blissful goals for the moment, let’s focus on a technique to practice Pratyahara. To detach awareness from outside sounds and from sensations in the body, such as the urge to scratch that itch or continuously make small adjustments while attempting to sit still, we can turn to pranayama – using the breath to distribute prana (life force energy) throughout the body.
Begin in a comfortable seated position, or svasana if that is preferred, then make any last minute adjustments and ensure you will be warm enough throughout the practice by layering the right amount of clothing.
Close your eyes, relax your tongue, bring attention to the bridge of your nose and maintain awareness of the breath on your nostrils.
Allow your face to feel soft, imagine every cell of your body is becoming softer and more relaxed.
Breathing* slowly, fully and deeply, scan your body noticing any areas of discomfort and then imagine releasing that discomfort with each exhale.
Notice the sounds outside and in the room if you are inside; sounds that are far away and close by. Take a moment to really listen to and acknowledge each sound, but without following it, then slowly let each one fade into the background.
If your mind starts to wander, return to your breath or even try a silent mantra such as So-Hum or simply repeat internally ‘inhale’ as you breathe in and ‘exhale’ as you breathe out.
Should you feel the urge to scratch that itch, try not to respond the first time, chances are the sensation will leave you. Of course if you are in extreme discomfort or any pain it’s important to make an adjustment or stop what you are doing in order to be safe.
Continue following your inhale and exhale in this relaxed state and when you no longer respond to your body’s physical sensations or to the sounds of the outside you have achieved Pratyahara!
Keep practicing the above steps, its ok if you can’t fully relax the first time, with practice you will get there.
*If you are familiar with Ujjayi breath, sometimes referred to as ‘ocean sounding breath’ or the three part yogic breath, you are welcome to try with one of these techniques to aid concentration.