Lesson IX: 5th Limb of Yoga--Drawing the Senses Inward

Patanjali's Teaching on Pratyahara, Sense Withdrawal

Lesson IX: 5th Limb of Yoga–Drawing the Senses Inward

THE FIFTH  LIMB OF YOGA  Pratyahara —Sense Withdrawal

In Light on the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar translates and comments upon the two sutras about Pratyahara or sense withdrawal. Sutra II, 54 – “Withdrawing the senses, mind and consciousness from contact with external objects, and then drawing them inwards towards the seer, is pratyahara.” (p. 159)  Sutra II, 55 — “Pratyahara results in the absolute control of the sense organs.” (p. 162)

What does “pratyahara or sense withdrawal” mean to us in terms of Yoga and everyday life? Well, if you are watching television and doing postures, you are not truly engaged in Yoga.  A key feature of Yoga, embodied in this fifth limb, is that doing Yoga entails drawing yourself away from all of the outside pulls that call for your attention — all of the sights, tastes, smells, sounds, feelings and thoughts that keep your attention outward instead of inside yourself, accessing your inner being.

Mr, Iyengar says “In normal daily life, consciousness helps the senses see the objects of the world with thoughts of acquisition, rejection and resignation. They become hypnotized by them, and are drawn outwards, towards pleasure.  In pratyahara, the senses are directed inwards, towards the realization of the soul.  Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the mind from its contact with the senses of perception and organs of action; then its direction is towards the soul.” (p.159-160.)   In addition to the pull of the five senses — sight, taste, smell, touch and hearing – Iyengar is referring to the pull of what he calls the five organs of action, namely – legs, arms, speech and organs of sex and elimination.

Accordingly, past impressions create memories that cause us to crave renewed sensation.  This desire causes frustration and unhappiness, and we never seem to be satisfied.  Iyengar points out that, “Here lies the true role of pratyahara, the fifth aspect of yoga. It is the friend who releases you from the snares of the external world, and leads you towards happiness in the delight of the soul….  The mind, which until now had bypassed intelligence, now approaches it for guidance.  Intelligence employs its discriminative faculty to weigh right and wrong, the appropriate and inappropriate, and supports the mind in its struggle to free itself form the vociferous claims of memory and imprints. The act of going against the current of memory is pratyahara.” (p. 160-161) It is the act of disciplining the senses and the mind by intelligence so that they can return to their inner points of origin.

A statue of the Hindu god Krishna and his devotee Arjuna at Rishikesh, North India.

Krishna and Arjuna Pulling the Reigns

In the Bhagavad Gita and other scriptures, the senses are likened to galloping horses that pull our chariot of existence in many different directions, all away from our internal center or core being. Pratyahara is the act of pulling the reigns back and choosing to go inward.  It is the work of the Witness Consciousness who asserts priorities and curbs excesses– placing our higher consciousness above the ego’s desires and resisting whatever might be appealing to our senses in the moment.  We learn to exercise pratyahara moment by moment, with patience and compassion.

Thus far we have studied five of the eight limbs of yoga. For a discussion of the first four limbs, visit www.yogalife.net/yogaphilosophy101.html  Mr. Iyengar makes the distinction that the first five limbs are actively practiced as an external quest, while the remaining three limbs carry us into the internal quest of yoga.  We will explore Concentration, Meditation and Transcendence in upcoming issues of our newsletter.

(Text:  BKS Iyengar:  Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  California:  Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, 1993.)


Holding the Mountain Pose, Tadasana
is a wonderful way to practice Pratyahara
Here is a favorite poem by Leza Lowitz









Tadasana, The Mountain
by Leza Lowitz

This is the place
the journey begins.
Half rooted in the earth,
half floating in the endless sky.
What would it be like
to be the mountain?
The air is perhaps thinner,
though the sky is not always clear.
The view is sometimes shrouded in fog
sometimes in plain and glorious sight,
but the ascent or descent can kill.
The earth is stable
or sometimes not.
So it is
at base or summit,
yet the mountain never asks
why or for what purpose
it exists.
This is the one difference
between the climber
and the climbed.

Excerpted from: Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By.  Leza Lowitz. Berkeley, CA:  Stone Bridge Press, 2000, p.84.

By | 2017-04-05T19:07:13+00:00 November 12th, 2016|Patanjali's Yoga Philosophy|Comments Off on Lesson IX: 5th Limb of Yoga–Drawing the Senses Inward