Meditation: Pratyahara, by Parvati Devi
The practice of meditation involves drawing our awareness inward. As we learn to let go of our attachments to passing thoughts, we develop a sense of internal space. Eventually we rest into the field of pure consciousness that lies behind our thoughts. This clearly takes practice. Meditation is a discipline cultivated over time. Even a few minutes a day is like putting money into your evolutionary bank account: valuable.
Our ego, where most of us place our attention, is attached to feeling separate and in control. It is not interested in letting go. As we learn to see beyond our ego, we connect to a much greater energy source than our individual self and tap into profound vitality and ease.
Of all the meditation practices, the classical yogic technique pratyahara is among the most inward. It involves the withdrawal of the senses. Though most of us are not hardcore yogis immersed in intensive spiritual practice, we can learn from pratyahara and apply the principles to our busy, worldly lives.
Traditionally, pratyahara is one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (“ashta” meaning eight and “anga” meaning limbs in Sanskrit). They describe stages of spiritual development, each stage built upon the other.
First, one practices the yamas, codes of conduct such as non-violence, truthfulness, not taking that which is not yours, faithfulness, patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty, moderate consumption and purity in body, mind and speech. What follows are the niyamas, religious observances including remorse, contentment, charity, faith, worship, scriptural study, vows, recitation and chanting.
The yamas and niyamas form the foundation of a spiritual life. Upon this, an aspiring yogi practices asana to purify the body/mind through physical exercises, commonly known in the West as Hatha Yoga. Pranayama, breathing exercises geared to integrate the body/mind, is also practiced as a means of purification.
Next comes pratyahara, the withdrawal of the senses and the release of attachment to the object of perception. This sets the stage for the home stretch, dharana (the practice of concentration), dhyana (the practice of absorption) and samadhi (blissful awareness).
So how can all this be useful to our busy lives? We are habitually caught up in the information coming through our senses so that we identify with the objects we perceive. We tend to think that what we we see, feel, taste, touch and smell are fixed realities. We build our lives around those deductions. We may think we see a cobra and go running, when it is just a coiled rope.
As we meditate, we go beyond our thoughts and touch deeper truths. The value of pratyahara teaches us to step back from our knee jerk thoughts that react to our sense information and pause. When we learn to pause, we experience more internal space. In that space, we find a bigger picture beyond what our senses communicate. We live more connected to the fullness of life, rather than limited to our personal world view and self-perceptions.
Next time you find yourself about to react to something you see, feel, taste, smell or touch, take a moment and breathe. By breathing, you allow space to come between you and your thoughts. Notice your reactions and ask yourself if you truly know the whole picture. Is there something you may be missing? Allow yourself to remain in a spacious, rooted, vital and expansive state of being so that you may experience the positive possibilities. A bigger picture is awaiting you in each moment. Welcome it in.
Parvati Devi is the editor-in-chief of Parvati Magazine. In addition to being an internationally acclaimed Canadian singer, songwriter, producer and performer, she is a yoga teacher and holistic educator, having studied yoga and meditation since 1987, and developed her own yoga teaching style called YEM™: Yoga as Energy Medicine. Her current show, “Yoga in the Nightclub”, brings forward a conscious energy into the pop mainstream.