A normal routine for me before I start my teaching on the mat is to greet and acknowledge every person that shows up with a smile, greeting, or a hug. I see the various bodies that stand before me and I most certainly see color and yet..........
“I do not see color when teaching yoga”.
Besides teaching a regular yoga class, I sometimes will offer 45 mins sessions where I encourage students to wear blindfolds. The initial reaction is one of uncertainty, fear, curiosity to will give it a go or what is Savira up to (for those who have taken my classes know that I always have something up my sleeve!) and sometimes it’s their expressions that says it all!
At the end of these sessions the responses I receive range from dislikes to a feeling of inner stability, focus, inner trust to a state of clarity in the way they move and internalize their focus from outer to their inner world.
In teaching a blindfold session the practitioners cannot see me so they have to rely on their other sensory organs (hearing being an important one), their inner guidance and intuition. This looking inwards builds an honest, clearer and deeper relationship between the practitioner and their practice and inner world…. this is pratyahara.
But how does it help me not see color…? you ask
As a teacher, demonstrating asanas become useless, so my sense of sight kicks in leading to fine tuning my observation skills, my cues and directions become clearer, simpler and accessible. It teaches me to respect their space and practice but more importantly it creates a sutra of connection between us that goes beyond the obvious.
While I acknowledge their presence in the beginning I consciously disengage from what my sensory organs have already taken in. This drops any maya or illusions of preformed patterns that are already stored in my mind. I connect with my students as beings, I relate to their essence not their color. I move from the evident to a subtler level. I consciously make the effort to connect with each of them on a humanity or energy level.
In no way does 'not seeing color' cloud my rational thinking nor hinder my view on challenging issues, au contraire it highlights it and motivates me to face and interact with them from a place of intelligibility.
Now how often have you heard "yoga is unity with the self /others, yoga is about ahimsa, satya etc" Often right? So how does one do that when we have not built a foundation to support introspection. Pratyahara is the bridge between our external and inner world.
One who is able to withdraw the senses from their objects, just as a tortoise withdraws its limbs into its shell, is established in divine wisdom.
Bhagvad Gita Verse 2:58
When we see things from an external visual level, it limits our understanding of the teachings and it confines us in the way we interact with others and ourselves. Our sensory organs are constantly feeding us with information that creates kleshas or disturbances and perceptions that not only distorts our outlook but feeds our asmita or ego as well. In practicing just, the external limbs we form strong links and attachments to the outer world; restricting and defining us at a superficial level of our relationships and existence.
The Yama/Niyamas, Asana and Pranayama are Bhairanga (external) practices of yoga that relates to the external world. These 4 limbs limit our understanding of spiritual growth and in developing a connection with our wisdom layer and intuition. While we derive pleasure, information and sensory perceptions though our senses, at the same time these can lead to our downfall if not controlled. Take for example the amount of time we spend on our devices which leads to stress, tiredness and anxiety! We have become so attached to the outer world and rely so much on what others have to say that we have lost our own connection and faith with our inner world.
Pratyahara the forgotten 5th Antaranga (internal) practice or limb of yoga is rarely practiced, taught or even mentioned. This limb is the root and foundation which supports the subtler practices of dharana, dhyana and samadhi of our inner world. How can we even begin to talk about samadhi or strive for it in today’s world when we have not laid and strengthen the foundations that is essential for freedom?
प्रत्याहार Pratyahara means to ‘go within’ to withdraw our senses by disengaging or disconnecting our 5 Indriyas, sensory organs from the external to the internal world.
Pratyahara is in no way a feel-good practice. Not only is it hard but it can be confusing and is abstract in nature. It is painfully tedious and very frustrating at the same time. It requires time and effort which we are unwilling to give. However, it is key especially if we want to understand the nature of our mind and move from a superficial practice to a deeper and genuine state of yoga.
In cultivating pratyahara, our space for clarity and wisdom broadens and in doing so our actions become less repetitious, more conscious and effective. Through this practice we build inner stability that not only roots us but expands our sense of awareness.