It’s funny when I see students, as I teach my yoga classes, picking their toes or playing with their feet, totally distracted from what they really should be doing in those forward folds (which is going inwards). I get it though, because I used to do it too. The poses would bore me or be too painful and so I would fidget, anything to stay distracted because it was just too uncomfortable to really feel.
But that has changed for me in a very dramatic way. I attribute it to a dedicated practice of yoga asana, the physical side of yoga & what westerners believe is the main chunk of what yoga is about. But really it is so much more that that. The poses are the gateway to a deeply transformative practice of how to be a spiritual human being, alive and free from pain, suffering and ignorance. The poses help to clear all the crap from the physical body (toxins, tension, pain, etc…) to then bring balance to the mind. Once this happens it becomes possible to move beyond the mind and body to an even better way of being…enlightened.
This is where the term ‘pratyahara’ comes in. It is sanskrit for “gathering inwards.” The yoga sutras, scriptures that guide us into the depths of this path, describe pratyahara as one of the steps of the 8 limbed path of yoga, or Ashtanga yoga. Its actually somewhere in the middle of the steps (which are more like branches of a tree and less like a ladder), meaning you can’t just jump into a pratyahara practice. You have to at first prepare the mind and the body so that the thoughts are not so turbulent and so that your emotions don’t create fireworks everywhere you go.
I have been thinking about this step, or stage of yoga a lot recently. In my classes I try to get people to turn inwards, to gather their attention by using tools such as the breath and even a little visualization to hop inside of themselves. It works for some people & not for others but I know it will just take time & practice.
If we observe our actions throughout the day, we may notice that we keep busy and entertained so that we do not have to spend time inside of ourselves, to even get to know ourselves. And this has become quite a problem. We are so unaware. Our energy is scattered and our senses are scattered in all different directions. We have addictions to multitasking and it is taking us further away from be-ing, and living. Before ya know it, years have past with minimal life experiences.
With our energy continuously going outwards, and our minds scattered in 10+ directions at once, no wonder we can’t sit still. No wonder we have digestive disturbances! How can we digest all of this experience? We would need to be a fat ganesh or a big belly buddha to assimilate life in this way! Lack of confidence and self doubt are also symptoms of scattered, unfocused energy. I have felt this before, being so nervous in front of people that my face would turn red and I would “space out,” saying stupid things because my energy was vomiting out in all different directions.
My practice is devoted to bringing my own energy inwards. When we can heal ourselves of the pain to be in ourselves, then we are free. There is so much potential when we understand who we are without the distractions and onslaught of what is going on around us. Going inside gives us the power to be focused, confident and passionate humans. Pratyahara is a goal one should have either on or off of the mat. Find a good practice that works for you….walking your dog, sitting and focusing on your breath while driving in traffic, whatever. Just practice!