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Pratyahara: fundamental part of the yogic training (part 1)
14-03-2014, 01:55 AM
Post: #1
Pratyahara: fundamental part of the yogic training (part 1)
Here is a series of articles that are shedding some light upon a very important subject for the yoga practitioners today: the practice of withdrawal of the senses, pratyahara.
This topic is especially important today due to the very intense dichotomy that people see between the spiritual life and the normal life. Many spiritual seekers today have the tendency to withdraw and refuse the world when viewed as an obstacle on the path to spiritual evolution … but they are not able to completely do this and remain somewhere in the “no-man's-land”, at the mercy of temptations, fighting to find a balance between paying their daily bills and reaching the silence for the daily spiritual practice. The whole concept of pratyahara – sense withdrawal – becomes in this context a central viewpoint that is offering the key to remain undisturbed in the middle of the storm without becoming completely tensed and locked inside of an ego-fortress.
I consider that the way pratyahara is integrated within the spiritual practice define the degree of resistance the practitioner will encounter from the environment on the spiritual path. And further more, pratyahara becomes a tool for developing one of the most important – and mostly ignored – tool we need on the path of evolution: choice.
Lets take it step by step.
Patanjali puts pratyahara as the fifth step of his eight-limbed Yoga system. Not only that it is one step on the eight-steps-path to perfection but it represents in a certain way the synthesis of the first five “preparatory” stages on the yoga path, as described in Patanjali's yoga “bible”, The Yoga Sutras.
It can be generally described as sense withdrawal, or more correctly – withdrawal of the senses from objects which stimulate them. Pratyahara involves also the control over the connections between senses and inner processes, like the association between sense of taste and secretion of digestive juices or the association between sense of sight and a certain desire that the image is triggering within the viewer.
This withdrawal involves also a certain sensorial containment of all perceptions and actions (known all together as the indradriyas) related to all the modalities through which interaction with the world can occur – light, sound, taste, smell, consciousness (the so-called tanmatras).

Actions of the lower five senses are known in sanskrit as jnanendriyas. These are: seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching. The organs of actions, called in sanskrit karmendriyas, include: genitals, anus, mouth, hands and feet.
Person lacking deeper knowledge of Western psychology as well as Eastern yoga, tantra and vedantic literature, perceives a human as being endowed with only five senses, while in fact – as shown in different spiritual disciplines – we have eighteen senses altogether. These include not just the outer senses, jnanendriyas which were mentioned above, but also a whole group of inner senses, known in sanskrit as antarendriyas. The term antarendriyas however holds much higher meaning then the simple inner sensations or their receptors. It is used in yoga and tantra to describe „the faculty in man working upwards through the mind in its evolutionary process”.

Western physiologists and psychologists acknowledge only the existence of eleven senses, since the methodology of those fields would demand “objective” proofs of existence of the remaining, inner senses. For a scientific qualification, a „sense” must possess specialized nerves, either outside or inside the body, through which the receptor receives the stimulation and a brain centre in which the stimulation is being received, either through the nerves or by a chemical action upon that center coming from the blood stream or surrounding glandular bodies.

The higher senses are well known however to yoga or tantra practitioners, parapsychologists and students of metaphysics. There can be underlined today even some specific brain areas which are connected to the higher centers of action in the mind. To deny their existence due to the fact that they cannot be scientifically demonstrated (yet!) to the satisfaction of the pragmatic mind of a scientist, means to deny the entire higher human nature and remain blocked into a materialistic view that is already obsolete. Analogically speaking, one cannot see the wind – its existence however should not be dismissed on that basis, as one can still observe its actions, which are proving its existence. We cannot „see” an atom, nor can we „see” the Universe, but we are able to deduce its existence by study of its „parts” as well as through the „reliable” testimony of physicists and astronomers. Man cannot „see” God, in the usual sense of the word, but he can see the acts of creation, the sustaining forces and the omnipresent flux of constant transformation that are all supported by a higher power that transcend by far any individuality. To a spiritual seeker – all these things are nothing else, but movements of God.

When dealing with the higher sensorial centers, a more open, transfigured view is necessary. Yogis know well these centers, as they experience their activities within their being when practicing the yogic or tantric sadhana. In fact anyone directing the attention toward the inner life will be able to validate by direct experience the existence and the work of these inner sensorial centers.

When we speak of pratyahara, we must therefore enlarge our view and realize that we have to deal with much more then just the commonly known five senses that are oriented toward the outer reality. For the purpose of discussing and properly understanding the mechanisms of pratyahara, we will mention here the eighteen senses with which each man is endowed, as they appear in different yogic works.

The Eighteen Senses of Man

1.The sense of sight, visual, through ocular and distant receptors.
2.The sense of sound, auditory, through distant receptors
3.The sense of smell, olfactory
4.The sense of taste, gustatory
5.The sense of touch and pressure, tactile, through exteroceptors
6.The sense of warmth, thermal, through exteroceptors
7.The sense of cold, thermal, through termoceptors
8.The sense of pain, through exteroceptors
9.The sense of muscular coordination, kinetic, through interoceptors and mechanoreceptors (work of the heart)
10.The sense o balance, kinetic, through interoceptors
11.The sense of thirst, hunger and sex, visceral, through chemoreceptors
12.The sense of inner sight – clairvoyance
13.The sense of inner hearing – clairaudience
14.The sense of inner smell
15.The sense of inner taste
16.The psycho-kinetic sense
17.The psycho-sympathetic sense of sympathy, empathy and pity
18.The sense of higher compassion

The first important conclusion of this talk about the inner senses is that the withdrawal of the senses is not affecting only the relationship with the external life but in the same time it will affect the relationship with the inner life as well.
Inner discipline and training of the control of our mental structure greatly depend upon the correct realization of pratyahara with all the inner and outer senses. In absence of this understanding we might find ourselves struggling to concentrate, sitting with carefully plugged ears and with a mind full of thoughts and inner experiences. Closing the channels of communication with the exterior does not automatically mean the absence of any inner experience hence a state of inner peace and silence.

We have to begin the training of pratyahara from the perceptions that appear at the physical level since it is at this level most of the attention is directed in the beginning of the spiritual practice. This is however only the beginning of the journey that will lead the practitioner to the amazing capacity to remain perfectly silent and detached right in the “eye of the storm”.
Senses are stimulated at the physical level through special neural structures called receptors. The receptors are nervous or often neural-epithelial structures transforming the energy coming from an external stimuli into a process of excitation, which in turn is transmitted, as nerve impulses traveling along nerve fibers from the receptor and into the central nervous system. Receptors which are activated by mechanical stimulation are called mechanoreceptors. Those that react to heat or cold – thermo-receptors. And those excited by actions of chemical agents – chemoreceptors. In essence, the receptors fall into two groups – exteroceptors (external receptors, which pick up stimuli from outside the body) and interceptors (internal receptors, which are tuned to receive stimuli from within the body).
Exteroceptors include the receptors of the skin, mucous membrane of the mouth cavity, nasal cavity, upper respiratory tracts and the cornea – the transparent layer at the surface of the eye. They also include tactile thermal and pain receptors, which are also able to analyze certain chemical substances. Sense of hearing and seeing also makes use of exteroceptors, which have the capability of being stimulated by phenomena located at a distance, and are known therefore as being „distance receptors”.
The interoceptors include mechanoreceptors, which are stimulated by movements of the skeletal muscles, as well as the ligaments, the heart etc., baroreceptors (also called pressure receptors), which react to pressure from within the body, chemoreceptors, affected by actions of various chemical agents inside the body, such as presence of carbon dioxide etc., and thermoreceptors, influenced by temperature fluctuations. Interoceptors include also receptors of pain which are stimulated by agents which may harm the physical body.

Interoceptors can be found in various areas of the organism ie. vascular receptors are located in the walls of the blood vessels, muscle spindles in the muscle tissue, joint receptors in the synovial junctions between bones, or receptors of equilibrium and balance located in the membranous labyrinth.

The distinction between exteroceptors and interoceptors is often not very obvious, as the internal receptors are sometimes stimulated from the outside of the body, This takes place when external pressure is applied through the skin on any of the organs, when extremely hot or cold liquid is poured into the stomach, or excessively hot or frigid air is inhaled into the lungs.

Antaranga yoga technique of pratyahara requires withdrawal of attention from signals received by all those receptors and senses. In case of some of them the withdrawal is relatively simple and easy. Others can prove to be more challenging to detach from. A glance at the list of eighteen senses presented above reveals that the eleven lower senses are duplicated on a higher level, in the seven higher senses mentioned. Often this higher, psychic counterpart takes over after the successful withdrawal of the physical sense and it becomes the sense with which one has to deal when wanting to achieve pratyahara. Physical sight might be replaced by clairvoyance. Physical hearing might be succeeded by clairaudience. Inner smells and tastes, thirsts, hungers and sex cravings might also suddenly blossom at the higher level, taken over by their psychic counterpart. For example, while dreaming or resting, a person can have a sensation of rocking or drifting as if in a boat, being able to fly with help of movement of the arms, as if swimming in the air, etc. These sensations are a release of psychokinetic senses. The same sensations, of rocking, drifting or flying, can be experienced by someone who undertakes concentration or meditation as well. Pratyahara, the withdrawal of senses, involves the necessary distancing also from these states, as they are disturbing the process of concentration and distracting from the Adhyatmic – leading towards full knowledge of the Supreme Self – goal of Antaranga Yoga.
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18-06-2014, 12:27 PM
Post: #2
RE: Pratyahara: fundamental part of the yogic training (part 1)
Was wondering what kind of environment can best be suited for this practice to actually notice the changes this type of Yoga provides to a person....
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16-09-2016, 10:24 AM
Post: #3
RE: Pratyahara: fundamental part of the yogic training (part 1)
Yoga isn't considered aerobic exercise, but the more athletic varieties, like power yoga, will make you sweat. And even though yoga is not aerobic, some research finds it can be just as good as aerobic exercise for improving health.
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06-10-2016, 10:06 AM
Post: #4
RE: Pratyahara: fundamental part of the yogic training (part 1)
Pratyahara is the pivotal point in the practice of yoga where the path leads from the exterior to the interior landscape of the body.
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