Of the eight limbs of Yoga, Pratyahara is the fifth limb and occupies the central position. It is the link between the outer aspects and the inner aspects of yoga and helps us to move between the two levels. It is impossible to move from the asanas to meditation; from physical plane to the mental plane without any control over the two planes. This movement between the two planes is facilitated by Pranayama and Pratyahara. Pranayama helps in controlling the impulses and the vital energies while the Pratyahara helps in gaining control over the unruly senses.
Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word meaning withdrawing self from all negative forms of nourishment. According to the yogic thoughts, there are three forms of nourishment.
1. The first is the physical food that helps in bringing the five elements for nourishing the body.
2. The second is the impression form wherein one brings the sensations like sight, touch, smell, taste and sound in contact with the mind.
3. The third is the spiritual form that deals with relationships nourishing the soul.
Pratyahara involves withdrawing from all the negative aspects of the food, impressions and associations and engage with the right food, impressions and the associations. Its main aim is to control the sensory impressions that liberate the mind to progress. It helps in strengthening the immunity of the powers of the mind.
When one practices pratyahara, one does not get easily disturbed by the external noises and the various unwanted disturbances in the environment around us. It helps one to create an internal environment to meditate.
Pratyahara has four main forms, each of which is very important in meditation.
1. Indriya Pratyahara or the control of senses is the most essential of all the forms. It gives one the tools by which one can strengthen the spirits and reduce body dependency through proper motivations and coordination.
2. Prana Pratyahara or the control of prana is required for the control of the various senses. If the prana is scattered then the senses also get disturbed and scatter.
3. Karma Pratyahara or the control of actions is through the control of the motor organs. The motor organs react to the various external stimuli through the sensory organs. Controlling the motor organs and ones’ desires would help in the withdrawal of the mind.
4. Mano Pratyahara or the withdrawal of the mind in which one controls the mind’s attention. When one withdraws the mind’s attention from the sensory input, he learns to control the various desires and slowly the external stimuli do not disturb him.
Pratyahara helps in rightly managing the senses and the mind. It prepares the mind for meditation and is present in one form or the other in all the Ashtang Yoga.