You’re listening to an engaging story, desperately trying to weave a thread through a needle, perhaps deep in a daydream. Whatever it was, we’ve all had the experience of being so in the moment that we fail to hear a siren outside, feel the dog licking our leg, or smell the smoke coming from the kitchen. This is Pratyahara.
It's rare enough that these moments come on their own but to silence the senses at will requires a serious mastery. First we must be able to control our prana. Consciously drawing the senses away from distraction and inward toward the self is the work we do everyday in Ashtanga Yoga and one of the many reasons I decided to practice and teach this specific lineage. Pratyahara is why though you love a fancy music playlist in class, you may not actually be practicing yoga if you are listening to it. It is why though you may have so much fun looking in the mirror and adjusting your alignment, there is argument that this is also not yoga. Patanjai’s definition of yoga states clearly that we are required to turn our senses inward to become yogis.
In the Ashtanga yoga method this pulling of the senses inward is done by employing a three-pointed focus. First we bring our attention toward the sound of our breath. Next we focus our eyes on one spot and consciously keep them from wandering around. Finally, we feel with every cell, the shape of our body in the pose. This trains our senses to steer inward and keeps us completely present in the moment.
The senses and mind are linked. If we can get mastery of the senses, we can master the mind. Though perfection in Pratyahara happens only after flawlessness is achieved in the limbs which come before it, there is no reason we can't begin to practice training our senses now. Non reaction to stimuli is an incredibly powerful practice which brings great benefits into our lives. You pass a great sweater in a window of a store. Suddenly you are having this whole silent conversation in your mind about how you could really use a sweater. It's off season. You haven't gotten yourself something in awhile. At the end of this mind talk you have given yourself permission to purchase and you think you have done well by "thinking it through". Truth is you have been scammed by the one who knows you best- your own mind! You never had any intention of purchasing a sweater only your senses dragged you into it! You were perfectly content till they got involved. When you start to observe this process and let the mind know you are into it, the senses will have much less power over you. Keep training your mind to dismiss the cravings. They will stop coming, and you will be free. This is the power of the practice of Pratyahara and the beauty of authentic yoga.
Cravings are the children of habits. Starve off your craving while your mind gets strong. Here are three steps to becoming craving free:
1. Avoid the trigger: If you return home each day at 5pm and immeditely open the kitchen cabinets scavenging for a treat, you've been programing your mind to think it's hungry by the time you walk up to your front door. Take a walk at 5 instead to form a new habit.
2. Give yourself a reward: The 5pm snacks felt to your child self like a deserved reward for a day complete. Substitute with a new reward that gives your heart that full feeling. This could be as simple as sitting in the sun, or a nice long chat with a friend. As long as you feel it and recognize it for the reward it is, it will work.
3. Praise heavily: Make sure to consciously acknowledge yourself each time you make a new choice with positive self talk. "I'm doing a great job making fantastic choices." Say it out loud for maximum benefit!