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Pratyahara...The Fifth Limb Of Yoga

Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses. It is derived from two Sanskrit words- Prati and Ahara, where Prati means away or against and Ahara means nourishment. Pratyahara translates as to withdraw oneself from that which nourishes the senses. This is the fifth limb amongst the eight stages of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. The first four limbs of Yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama & last three are Dharna, Dhyana & Samadhi. 

The mind is controlled & channeled by following the disciplines of Yama & Niyama while Asana & Pranayama direct & guide the mind to move & know the inner self of the body. Hence the root of Pratyahara is in Yama, Niyama, Asana & Pranayama. It means the ethical discipline of Yama & Niyama, physical & physiological discipline by Asana & psycho-spiritual reaction makes the mind ripe to follow Pratyahara. It is built brick by brick through Yama, Niyama, Asana & Pranayama & used in Dharna, Dhyana & Samadhi.

THE INDRIYA (The sense organs)

The Senses that are withdrawn in Pratyahara are called indriyas and involve both cognition (Jnanendrriyas) and expression (Karmendrriyas). There are ten indriyas or senses. The five cognitive senses, which are called Jnanendriyas come from the roots Jnana (wisdom) and Indra who was the God of the ‘sensory’ heaven in Hinduism. They are Shotra (ears), Chakshu (eyes), Grahna (nose), Jivha (tongue), Tvak (skin). The five means of expression are called Karmendriyas. They are Pada (feet) Pani (hands), Vak (mouth), Payu (rectum), Upastha (genitals). These ten sense organs receive their instructions & directions by Manas (Mind, intellect, memory & ego). The senses are generally turbulent & restless. We have very little control on them. Through the practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana & Pranayama, the senses become more restrained & at peace.

INDRIYA-PRATYAHARA (Control of the Senses)

Indriya-Pratyahara or Control of the senses is the most important form of Pratyahara. The question in Pratyahara is what to withdraw first- the senses from the sense object or the mind from the senses. In the normal state of perception, the senses become active first and then the mind follows. Once you are able to withdraw, dissociate & internalize it, the senses will follow the mind & this is the secret of Pratyahara. So the answer of Pratyahara is to first withdraw the mind from the senses & not withdrawal of the senses from sense object. It does not happen easily. One has to learn to control them cautiously by attending to their moods, modes & rectifications. In Pratyahara, we try to put the senses in their proper place but at the same time we do not cut them out of our actions entirely.


In Pratyahara the senses remain unmoved & uninfluenced. For example, when we are totally absorbed in the breath during Pranayama, Pratyahara occurs quite automatically. The mind is so intensely occupied with the breath that all links between mind, senses and external objects that have nothing to do with the breath are cut off. The senses are quite capable of responding, but they do not because they have withdrawn or detached. Pratyahara occurs automatically when we meditate precisely because the mind is so focused, the senses follow it. A person experiences this state, to a degree, just before going to sleep or upon awakening. When the senses are no longer tied to external sources, the result is restraint, interiorisation or Pratyahara.


Pratyahara is rather a state that occurs spontaneously. It happens by itself. We can not make it happen. We can only practice the means by which it might happen. It has been taken both as Abhyasa (practice) and Prakriya (process). As a practice, Pratyahara is practiced by sitting quietly for some time and trying to withdraw the sensory awareness inside by maintaining the witnessing attitude. As a Prakriya or process it goes on all the time in our daily life, i.e. the witnessing attitude develops and the ego becomes detached and unaffected even in the midst of activity. When the ego is detached, it does not feel insecure due to the presence of frustrations, tensions and conflicts. Yoga nidra, Antar mouna, Trataka and Ajapa japa are important methods of Pratyahara. In every method, the technique is different but the aim is the same, i.e. to become internalized without the involvement of 'I' ness (ego). Learn these above methods from some qualified yoga instructor & practice them one hour daily. I am giving details of one of the methods – Tratka.

TRATKA (The practice of gazing at one point)

Trataka falls into two groups- Pratyahara & Dharana. Pratyahara Trataka is gazing at an external point such as a candle. Trataka helps to control the dissipation that occurs when we become aware of form.


• Sit peacefully with straight spine in front of a candle in a least lighted room.
• Light the candle and place it on a small bench at a distance of 2 feet from the eyes.
• Now watch the flame of the candle or the wick of the candle continuously and steadily.
• When you feel that your eyes are exhausted, close the eyes & try to visualize the flame of the lamp with closed eyes. Try to feel the flame inside you between your eyebrows.
• When this image disappears, re-open the eyes and again start gazing the flame tip to re-establish the image in your mind, and continue this experiment several times.
• While gazing at the candle, engage your mind with chanting Omkar / Bhramari / watching on the breath
• Initially gaze for 2-3 minutes. Increase the duration of gazing each time and do it for maximum possible duration of about 15-20 minutes, but undue strain should not be taken.
• Ending this exercise, slowly close the eyes & lie down in Shavasana for some time.
• You can freshen up the eyes afterwards by rinsing them carefully and gently with cold water.

Once you achieve success in practicing Pratyahara, you reach a stage where new Samskaras and new Vasanas are no longer created. The Yogi is able to put a stop to this process of the creation of additional new Samskaras and Vasanas. The perceived objects do not impinge upon the consciousness any more. The mind becomes gradually transformed into a Yogic mind, an indrawn mind (an Antarmukha Manas). Your mind will be yourself. Instead of your feeling that it is "your" mind, you will feel that you are "yourself" the mind, a medium of the expression of the Atman Itself. A great unlimited joy will take possession of you. That is success in Pratyahara.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti


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