Pratyahara – closing off the sense doors
Pratyahara often translated as sense withdrawal, or interpreted as the “closing off of the doorways of the senses” is the fifth limb of yoga.
It’s a little more than just covering your ears and going “lah, lah, lah” when someone’s saying something you don’t want to hear.
But it is meant to serve a similar purpose…
Having explored, and gained a measure of experience and expertise in some of the other preparatory limbs of yoga like the physical practice or breath work, it can be counterintuitively illuminating to begin experimenting with depriving the mind of expected information.
Less really is more, in this particular sense.
Whether it is sight – as in the suggested experiment below – or sound (ear plugs while you meditate shows you exactly how loud your mind can be), when you close off a sense “door” you eliminate the mental pollution that is coming in constantly from that particular pathway.
Until you do this, it is impossible to really know just how much information is constantly bombarding you from one direction.
Once you do, a clarity can be gained around the veracity and value of that information.
In his brilliant little book The Botany of Desire Michael Pollan once suggested a benefit to the short-term memory erasing properties of Marijuana, ‘Do you really want to remember what color the person’s shirt was who sat across from you on the bus today?’
Do you really need all of the information coming at you from your eyes at all times? From your ears?
Once upon a time, yes.
As a caveman the information in the surrounding environment would have been absolutely vital to your short-term survival…the presence of a saber-toothed tiger, tree full of fruit, or potential mate being of the utmost importance.
As a modern day human, not so much…
The lack of looming dangers, and abundance of food and potential mates make the constant sight signals incoming a lot less advantageous…in fact, most of that information is now not useful, redundant at best and unhelpful at worst.
With deep fake technology, an abundance of fake news, and gobs of garbage on social media, more often than not, in today’s age, our senses deceive us more than serve us…
In a world of competing notions of beauty, for example, constantly seeing other people can be a platform for unproductive comparison to make just one.
Consider other ways your senses actively lie to you. (If you’re color blind think of another way.)
Explore closing off a sense door. In Outlaw Yoga Teacher Training we require that our up and coming teachers undertake a number of sense withdraw practices including taking a class with a blindfold on.
Try this any time…
Just be sure to pick a class on The Outlaw Yoga Club that isn’t a restore, and maybe not a weighted one either or you run the risk of robbing yourself of the fullness of the experience (or bashing your toes on your weights).
I do recommend that you wear a blindfold, and that you close your eyes at the same time. I’ve tried both ways and there is a difference.
At first you may find that you are feeling around ‘blind’ for your position on the mat, but after a few moments you’ll settle into your space…explore and invite the lack of balance this creates, the newness of the postures that is available to you simply because you took away a sense door.
Rather than adding anything new, you took something away. Addition by subtraction as they say…
Meditating with ear-plugs, fasting from eating or drinking, or floating in a sense-deprivation float tank can be great pratyahara experiments too…
It’s up to you what you do with the wisdom gained from these book-end type experiences once you have explored them.
Do you need all of the information coming at you at all times?
How can you invite an aspect of productive withdrawal into other areas of your life? (Besides going “lah, lah, lah” and covering your ears while your boss/husband/wife says something you don’t like.)
Where would it serve you best to be blind, at least for a certain period of time, I wonder…?
Good luck, yogis!
Justin “Jud” Kaliszewski is the best-selling yoga teacher and renowned creator of Outlaw Yoga. Author. Artist. Adventurer. Though his studio is currently closed per state order, you can still take his class NOW at outlawyogaclub.com and www.youtube.com/outlawyoga. Find his writing and art at www.justinkaliszewski.com and his presence all over the internet – for an outlaw, he’s shockingly easy to get ahold of.