One of the primary tools that Yoga offers for cultivating more discernment is the 8 limbs. The 5th of those limbs is pratyahara, or withdrawal of the senses. Yoga at its best is experiential. We can read and understand a teaching or idea but it is through having a direct experience of something that creates the most comprehension. I certainly had a profound experience of pratyahara the past 11 days while on a cleanse. I became hyper-aware of my tendency to reach for things on auto-pilot. I would then stop and remember that what I was reaching for was not an option in what I was choosing to do. Then, I would turn my attention away from that ‘thing’ and toward something else. It was a very different type of Yoga practice for me, but a powerful one nonetheless.
We are bombarded with seemingly endless choices every day and our senses are constantly reaching out in search of more. One of the ways we can get out of balance is when we are unable to withdraw the senses inward. For example, let’s say we are all set to do a morning meditation, then we smell the coffee brewing and decide to have the coffee instead. The senses have just taken over. Something outside of us has pulled us away from our intention or goal. Think about how many times this might happen in a day. You set out to do something and instead you end up eating, drinking, smoking, scrolling social media, shopping, watching something, reading something, etc. The sense’s desire for more stimulation can easily override our best intentions. As a result we often end up feeling all sorts of negative emotions for not following through on what we set out to do.
There is so much to distract us so it is a practice for sure. And that’s why pratyahara is so important. There will always be distractions. If we really, truly want something, we are going to have to withdraw from a lot of things in order to focus our mind and attention on that something. When there is something that is trying to pull me away from my goal and my senses are doing their best to convince just how good it’s going to be if I give in, I ask myself this question: How bad do I want that goal and is this thing going to lead me closer to it? If not, maybe it’s a good time to close my eyes, take a deep breath and visualize myself drawing away from that ‘thing’ in order to tune back into my breath, back into my center, back into my intention.